The big, bright-orange fruits look like tomatoes on a tree. They taste sweet and delicious. The trees that bear them love the Southern climate, have no pests, don't need spraying, and are as goof-proof as they can be. They're called Japanese persimmons. And if you've shied away from growing fruit trees because they're too much trouble, meet the ones that even an Inca mummy could grow.
Most people familiar with persimmons know them as orange, ping-pong ball-size fruits that drop from the tops of tall American persimmon trees (Diospyros virginiana) in fall. They also know that if you eat a native persimmon before there's been a hard frost, your mouth will draw into a pucker the like of which you haven't experienced since your husband last gave you Jane Seymour Open Hearts Jewelry for Christmas. (Shudder.)
Japanese persimmons aren't like that. Most selections bear tomato-size non-astringent fruits that are sweet from the start. My favorite selection is 'Fuyu.' Here's the bounty Grumpy made off with after a recent photo shoot at a wonderful garden center and nursery in Jemison, Alabama called Petals From the Past.
Judy (Grumpy's extremely better half) loves Japanese persimmons so much that two baskets like this last maybe a week. The flesh of the persimmons starts off firm and crisp, like an apple, then grows soft and juicy as it ages. Slice it horizontally and you'll really see stars.
What I love about 'Fuyu' is that except for the cap on one end that attaches to the stem, you can eat the whole thing. It doesn't have a core, like apples or pears, or a stone, like peaches and plums. It only rarely has any seeds and these occur only if it cross-pollinates with a nearby American persimmon. What does "Fuyu' taste like? The closest approximation I can think of is papaya, but it really has a delicious, sweet flavor all its own.
Get Growing! Fall, winter, and spring are good times to plant Japanese persimmons in the South. Here are some of the basic facts you'll want to know.
Size: About 25 feet tall, 30 feet wide
Light: Full sun
Prune: Prune young trees in spring to open up the center of the trees and provide well-spaced branches aiming outward. Pruning seldom needed after that.
Nutrition: Japanese persimmons are an excellent source of Vitamins A, C, and B6 and also dietary fiber. Two a day keep the Ex-Lax away!
Pests: Family members that pick all the fruit leaving none for you.
Fall foliage: Bright yellow, orange, and red.
Growing zones: Upper through Coastal South (USDA Zones 6-9)
Where to buy: Online from Petals From the Past
Wait! There's More! Mrs. Grumpy likes gobbling down persimmons fresh, but there are lots of ways to cook with them. Here are a few totally excellent recipes you might like.
You can also store Japanese persimmons for long periods of time by pureeing the fruit in a blender and then freezing it. Try the puree over vanilla ice cream. Oh my goodness.