I am zipping around Lenny’s produce, dodging other shoppers in the crowded market as I fill my basket with vegetables for the coming week, when I see the luminous yellow fruit. Shaped like a flattened heirloom tomato, they are beautiful and I’m a sucker for fruits and vegetables that I haven’t tried before. The sign says that they are persimmons.
I don’t know how to select a persimmon, so I just choose a pretty one. Somewhere, lurking in the back of my mind, however, is a niggling concern about persimmons, or the ripeness thereof. I put my lone persimmon in the fruit bowl at home, and every day for the next week, there it is, golden as a summer day. I eye it warily and eat the other fruits around it.
Finally, the source of my concern surfaces in my memory. As is the case with so many important life lessons, this one comes from a children’s book. I stand at the book case and scan a few titles until the memory comes back to me. It was little Rose Wilder, I remember. From there it is the work of only a few moments to find the right chapter from Little House on Rocky Ridge, by Roger Lea MacBride.
In the key passage, Rose, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, finds a mysterious new fruit near the family farm in Missouri.
“At first the taste was nothing—not sweet, but not tart either. It was just a bit crunchy. Then she felt a strange roughness in her mouth. The inside of her mouth began to shrivel. It turned dry, first cottony dry, and then as dry as dust. The insides of her lips stuck to her teeth. Her tongue stuck to her palate and a puckery feeling filled her whole mouth. It was the worst thing Rose had ever tasted, and it scared her. That fruit was poisoning her. ‘Ungh! Ungh!’ she coughed. Tears welled up in her eyes.
Suddenly Rose heard laughter. She looked up. Standing in front of her was a freckle-faced girl about her size… ‘Your face looks like my pa’s tobacco pouch,’ the girl said mockingly. ‘Serves you right, I guess. Those are my pa’s persimmons.’
Rose tried to spit out the horrible-tasting fruit. But her mouth was too dry and puckery. So she pulled it out with her finger. After a few moments her mouth began to feel right again.
‘Where are you from?’ the little girl asked, hands on her hips. ‘You ain’t from around here, or you’d of knowed better’n to eat a green persimmon.'”
Then she told Rose about persimmons. “‘These ain’t ripe yet,’ she said, showing Rose a persimmon like the one she had bitten into. It was firm, and the color was lighter than the others. ‘They’re puckery. You cain’t eat ‘em till they get soft. These kind here have tandy acid in ‘em. That’s what my pa calls it, I think. Here’s a real good ripe one. See? It’s dark and kind of mushy. My ma cooks them in pudding. Smack down on it.’
Rose took a small bite. This time her mouth filled with the dark flavor of sweet juice. It was unlike anything she had tasted. She ate all of it, spitting out the slimy brown seeds.”
I was right! A wolf in sheep’s clothing, sitting in my fruit bowl! In light of this refresher course , I assess the condition of my persimmon. The golden yellow color is starting to deepen slightly on top, but it certainly isn’t “dark and kind of mushy” yet.
A few more days go by as I continue to watch the persimmon, waiting for it to ripen further.
Not that I doubt the lore of the Little House on the Prairie series, from which I learned to build a log cabin, fry salt pork, and talk to Indians, but I start to think that more information is needed. To the internet–where I discover that there are several varieties of persimmons. What I have appears to be a Fuyu persimmon, which doesn’t need to ripen into mushiness before being eaten safely, as the American persimmon does.
By this time, the persimmon has deepened in color, with a more purplish red blush. I take it over to Michael’s house and set it on the counter. “It’s a persimmon.” I say, “Shall we eat it?”
Michael expresses some skepticism: “It’s not a normal fruit. It’s an odd fruit.”
I slice the persimmon into wedges and pare off the skin. The inside is orange and seedless, with the approximate texture of a cantaloupe. I offer a piece to Michael, who says, “You first.”
“Simultaneously,” I say, and we each put a piece in our mouths and “smack down on it”. It tastes exactly like cantaloupe. Phew! It was a Fuyu persimmon. No clawing at our tongues, no mouth puckering, and no tobacco-pouch faces for us.