Foraging for ‘Simmons

28 Nov 2021

The prize is the southern and simply sumptuous persimmon pudding

Story and Photos by Christine Hall

A curiosity came over me this fall. I was planning for the holidays (and general survival amongst mortals) and was seeking inspiration in the kitchen. Knowing that – COVID permitting – our families would soon be gathering around dining tables to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s I was curious what culinary contributions I could make this season.

Coming from a small family of southern cooks and marrying into one with farming roots, I had high expectations for my own homemade dishes, not to mention ones for special occasions. Regrettably I had not passed southern matriarch cooking-from-scratch school with flying colors, so my contributions needed to be forgivingly simple.

Shortly after I began thumbing through my stack of cookbooks, I ran into a family friend and skillful caterer, Giff Fisher, proprietor of White Rabbit Catering, at a local soiree. Knowing my knack for farm-to-table venturing, and his talents for southern-style delicacies, our interests soon meshed into a conversation about local foods and holiday traditions.

“Have you ever made Persimmon Pudding?” he questioned. “Persimmons have this savory, earthy sweetness when mixed with a little nutmeg and cinnamon. It is a revered staple at many family tables.” My interest was piqued.

“Wild persimmons that grow around here are only valuable to eat once they have fallen from the tree,” he continued. “If you pick them too soon, they are astringent and so tart they will make your mouth turn up.” Fisher continued to tell me about his early morning visits to collect persimmons from the ground before the possums and other critters beat him to it. As a nature lover, the possibility of encountering wildlife while foraging for native fruits in the woods sounded right up my alley. It was then my destined holiday contribution was chosen.

After conversing over my newfound interest in southern ‘simmons, we set a date to meet in Aberdeen at Fisher’s White Rabbit Catering kitchen to make a batch.

Pure and Simple

“First of all, Persimmon Pudding is a labor of love,” Fisher declared as we entered the chef-grade kitchen. While we searched for the special cylindrical cone sieve used for pressing out the pulp and separating the seeds, Fisher continued to share remembrances of his encounters with the treasured pudding. “It is a little like English pudding and a little like warm gingerbread with whipped cream on top – truly divine,” he continued, as he took out the large bowl of persimmons he had gathered from his own trees.

“These are wild persimmons, and you want to make certain they are ripe and soft to the touch when collecting,” he said. “You will never put an un-ripened one in your mouth again!”

Persimmons carry a high tannin level that breaks down as they mature, allowing the delicate sweetness to come through. Depending on their ripeness, they will keep in the refrigerator a few days, but then will spoil, thus a narrow window of time exists to eat or cook them.

As we worked through the recipe, I learned how to make the pulp by pressing the persimmons through the sieve. This luscious and silky-smooth treat practically could be eaten by itself or as a jam or dessert topping. I was taught how to pinch off the small “beak” from the bottom of the fruit before eating, and the proper technique for using the rolling pin-like mallet in the special sieve. Adding in eggs, flour, cream, sugar, and a mix of ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon was the simple recipe that followed.

“One of the interesting things about persimmons is they have somewhat fallen out of use,” Fisher said. “Other fruits like pomegranates, figs, and avocados that have better shelf lives have become more marketable in the food system. Persimmons are somewhat of a culinary underdog.” A rarity – I suddenly liked them even more.

Ask one of your elders, however, and they may beg to differ. When questioned about her own recipe, my grandmother, age 97, pulled out six cookbooks and “her Google” (a Lincoln Library encyclopedia) for reference. She showed me the entry for “Persimmon” and its descendance from the Ebony tree and how each cookbook had a recipe for Persimmon Pudding that differed slightly throughout the regions in North Carolina where she had lived – from the Triangle to the Piedmont to the Sandhills. She recalled the gingery-rich and elusive desert that circled her family’s table and the simple enjoyment it brought.

After baking in the oven for an hour and slicing a portion for me to take home, I departed the White Rabbit kitchen and delivered a slice to my grandmother, who received it with immense glee. Later that crisp evening, I walked into the wooded area behind our home and was surprised to find several trees of our own, some even bearing fruit. Maybe they are not so rare after all, but rather humbly go unnoticed.

Perhaps you encountered the modest persimmon this holiday season. Perhaps you did not. If you are looking for a slice of nostalgia next season, mark your calendars for Autumn (specifically October through early November) to seek some fruit of your own to discover and try.

How to Enjoy Native Persimmons:

Persimmons can be enjoyed fresh-picked or dried and carry a date-like flavor. Persimmons are typically known for their use in holiday puddings and baking but can also be used in breads, salsas, salads, and even beer.

Some producers in the southeast harvest and render the fruit into pulp for ease of preserving in the freezer or for transport. (see for North Carolina pulp sellers).

Persimmon Pudding:

2 cups persimmon pulp
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup melted butter
2 cups light cream
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Combine all ingredients. Bake at 325 degrees in a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish for 50 minutes. Note: If not eaten within several days, freeze. 20 seconds in the microwave is ideal for reheating a refrigerated (or fully thawed) slice.

About Persimmons:

- Native Persimmons, Diospyros virginiana
- Common Names: American Persimmon, Date Plum, Jove's Fruit, Possum Apples, Winter Plum
- This deciduous tree is valued for its wood, fruit, and attraction to wildlife
- Two trees (male and female) are typically required for fruiting
- Like apple trees, they often bear more fruit on alternate years
- Native to central and eastern United States and found throughout most of North Carolina
- Grows between 30-70 feet tall and will tolerate hot, dry, and poor soils once established
- No known disease or insect problems
- Small white blooms offer special value to honeybees
- Related to the Oriental Persimmon* which bears larger fruit that resembles a tomato in appearance and apricot in flavor


Unlike the Native Persimmon, Asian Persimmons, Diospyros khaki, can be astringent or non-astringent. Non-astringent varieties can be eaten off the tree while they still have an apple-like crisp. These persimmon trees grow 10-15 feet tall and are not as cold tolerant as native persimmons. Varieties include Fuyu, Juro, and Hanagosho.

Prev Post A Merry Mantle
Next Post A Dash of Holiday in 1-2-3