Ozark Outdoors

Persimmons will make you pucker but can they prognosticate?

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Persimmon seeds supposedly are indicators of winter weather. These are from 2013.

Persimmon seeds supposedly are indicators of winter weather. These are from 2013 when Patrick Byers split open three seeds and found three different prognostications.

In Ozarks folklore, persimmons are know for prognosticating severity of winter weather — the seeds are said to forecast the severity of the winter ahead. It’s all about the “eating utensils” found in the seed. If you split the seed and find a spoon shape, expect lots of snow; a knife means cutting cold; A fork? Ice storms, according to some; an easy winter, say others.

But what if you find all three?

In 2013, Patrick Byers, part-time naturalist and highly regarded full-time MU Extension horticulturalist renowned for his habit of venturing off the beaten path, discovered what seemed to be the shapes of a knife, fork and spoon within the seeds (see photo above to see if you concur).

Other than the National Weather service, which admits to being wrong about 80 percent of the time, there are plenty of other ways to prognosticate about the weather, including wooly worms that you’re likely to see crossing the wrong road to get to the other side, never realizing it’s likely to be more of the same. But that’s another story, and we’ll get to it.

As to how tasty persimmons can be, that appears to be a hit-and-miss business as well. Some years they seem to be sweeter than others, and Donald Trump may seem to eat them as snack food.

Native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are more likely to make you pucker up than smile, but the fruit is edible if you wait for it to ripen. Get in line though, because persimmons are a favorite for certain birds, deer and pollinators in season.

Persimmons are a soft, edible fall fruit (actually, they’re berries) that can be eaten fresh, cooked, or dried.  They make delicious jams, pies, steamed puddings, bread and even muffins and cookies.

A persimmon comes from the edible fruit trees in the genus, Diospyros, which means t “fruit of the gods or even “divine fruit,” though you might not think so if you bite into one.

Also native to China, the persimmon has been cultivated for thousands of years. Japan has been cultivating persimmons for about 1,300 years. Japanese and Chinese cultivars were first introduced to the U.S. from 1870 to 1920. Native Americans were also eating persimmons long before the first Europeans entered the country without so much as a passport.

The American persimmon native to the Ozarks is known as the common persimmon. Native from Florida to Connecticut, west to Missouri and even southeast Kansas, south to Texas, it is grown domestically in California. In 2012, nearly 3,000 acres produced almost 17 tons of fruit.

What do they taste like?

If you’re lucky enough to have access to a persimmon tree, chances are you haven’t given them a fair chance if you just picked one and nibbled on it. Their pudding-like texture when ripe reminds some of apricots. They might be available in the “exotic produce” section in season, and, they are loaded with nutrients.

Reasons to give them a try

Persimmons are an excellent source of provitamin A beta-Carotene. Persimmons are a good source of antioxidants such as Vitamin C, which are important for a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, and to protect the body’s connective tissues,  bones, blood vessels, and skin. These fruits also contain the antioxidant compounds lycopene and lutein, which arm against free radicals that accelerate aging and various diseases.

Persimmons contain healthy amounts of minerals like phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper and calcium. Next time you want a healthy dose of potassium, reach for a persimmon fruit. The average persimmon provides about 78 mg of potassium, an important electrolyte that helps maintain the body’s fluid balance and electrical activity of the heart and muscles. (You can also get a bucketful of potassium from low-sodium juices, such as V8 or even tomato juice, where the sodium is replaced by potassium chloride, the healthy salt).

One persimmon fruit has only 32 calories, no fat no sodium. The pulp of just one berry contains six grams of dietary fiber, 25 percent of your daily requirement (so you could conceivably eat four in a salad).

As for winter weather, we feel confident there will be some. And as for politics, we can only hope it will all be over, just not soon enough.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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