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  • Ian Thompson

Choctaw Persimmon Bread


Out working on the farm yesterday, we noticed our persimmons are just starting to get ripe. Persimmons are a fairly abundant tree in the eastern US. At least in our area, they tend to be a tree that moves into prairies and pastures that haven't been burned or mowed in a while. They can eventually reach 80ft tall. American persimmons are relative of the African ebony tree. Their wood is tough and great for making a variety of tools. Their round orange fruits range in size from a quarter to a half dollar. Inside are four to six large, roughly bean-shaped seeds.


The experience of eating ripe persimmon fruit from a good tree is unforgettable, combining the sweet, richness of custard with the pleasant aroma of the woods in the fall. On the other hand, the experience of eating an unripe persimmon is also hard to forget. The bitter taste and the drying effect inside the mouth are caused by high levels of tannic acid. Ripe persimmons are very soft. In the title image and compare the look of the ripe persimmons pictured at the bottom right with the unripe persimmons pictured at the upper left. The surfaces of ripe persimmons tend to look almost powdery, rather than having a shiny luster, and they may be wrinkled. Softeness, however, is the main indicator. Don't pick a persimmon if it doesn't gently move between your fingers when you pinch it on the tree. Common wisdom is that persimmons ripen after frost. However, on our old farm at Coleman, the persimmons were ripe by Labor Day and gone by October. Other trees have fruits that never get sweet even in February when they turn to mush and fall off the tree. Before picking a ton of fruit from a tree you're unfamiliar with, it's advisable to find a nice squishy fruit and take a little taste to make sure its a good tree.


Persimmons are an excellent source of vitamin C. Consuming just four fruits provides a person with their daily requirement. On a seasonal diet, this becomes increasingly significant heading into the winter when few other sources of vitamin C are available. Persimmons also contain an array of antioxidants including betulinic acid, which fights a number of cancers, and catechins, which fight infection, inflammation, and bleeding from the small blood vessels. Persimmons are a good source of beta carotene, which supports healthy vision, and zeaxanthin, which is thought to help prevent age-related macular degeneration. Persimmons are also high in fiber. Because of their unique suite of nutrients, persimmons are particularly well-suited to fighting atherosclerosis.


While harvest time for individual trees vary, right now we're entering the main part of the persimmon harvest for the woods as a whole. The coyotes and raccoons are carrying on their ancient harvest every night right now. Choctaw people have been harvesting persimmons for thousands of years. You can pick them directly off the tree, gather them off the ground (assuming they haven't burst open on impact), or even shake a small tree and collect what falls. One great Choctaw persimmon recipe is Ukof Palvska, Persimmon Bread.


Choctaw persimmon “bread” is actually a fruit leather. Persimmons are naturally very sweet. This sweetness diminishes when they are made into leather. The leather combines a hint of sweet persimmons with a starchier taste more like cooked potatoes. It is a lightweight, high-energy food, carried by fall hunting parties into the field. It was a trade item to the French and was also eaten by Choctaw people as a medicine to treat certain stomach ailments. If kept dry, persimmon bread is said to have lasted from one year to the next.


Recipe): Gather ripe persimmons. One unripe persimmon will ruin the batch, so after picking, we like to store them together in a grocery sack for a few days to make sure they're all fully ripe and mushy. If you don't have access to American persimmons, Asian persimmons can be purchased at some grocery stores. Compared to the American persimmon, the Asian persimmons are larger and less flavorful. After the persimmons are fully ripe, put them in a kitchen sieve and mash the pulp through. The seeds and skin will stay behind in the sieve (In the old days, Choctaws did this using Isht Yuha, a river cane sifter basket. One made by Tom Colvin is pictured in the title image). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (In the old days, they spread the pulp onto a clean slab of wood). Spread the persimmon pulp across the parchment paper to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Set the baking sheet under the windshield of a car on a warm sunny day. Alternatively, you can put the sheet in an oven on the lowest temperature and leave the door cracked. Dry until the persimmon leather is solid, but still pliable, not brittle. For long-term storage, wrap in butcher paper. Seal in an airtight bag with the air removed, and freeze.


We hope you enjoy this tasty, healthy, fun-to-make traditional food.





Adapted from the Choctaw Food book


Sources:

Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz 1758

Bernard Romans 1776

Henry Halbert ca 1915



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