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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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persimmon or American persimmon Diospyros virginiana, a fruit which used to be valued in eastern N. America but is now little eaten, partly because it has been eclipsed by a superior relative from the Orient, the kaki (D. kaki). The date plum (D. lotus) is another close relative.

The name persimmon comes from ‘putchamin’, a phonetic rendering of the name used by the American Indians of the Algonquin tribe. They ate them when they were ripe and had fallen from the tree and dried them to be eaten in the winter. The first European to write about the fruit was probably the Spanish explorer Don Fernando de Soto, who learned about it from the Indians of Florida in 1539. Captain John Smith, in the 17th century, likened it to the medlar, noting: ‘if it be not ripe it will drawe a mans mouth awrie with much torment; but when it is ripe, it is as delicious as an Apricock.’ Ripe persimmons were eaten by the settlers, or used in puddings, breads, preserves, etc. But the production of persimmon (or ‘simmon’) beer and wine and other alcoholic drinks was an equally important use.