October is persimmon season in Louisiana

by Mary Tutwiler

The glorious weather is a good incentive to get out of town and in touch with the countryside around us. The glorious weather is a good incentive to get out of town and in touch with the countryside around us. Lafayette is so insular that if you stay within its borders you forget just 20 minutes away the small towns and rural landscape of south Louisiana are changing with the season in ways we don't experience here in the city.

Right now goldenrod and iron weed are blooming everywhere. Don't blame golden rod for your sneezes, it's ragweed that's the culprit, beautiful goldenrod doesn't deserve the bad rap.

But the most exciting indicator of fall right now for me is driving through the cane fields of Iberia Parish and coming upon local orchards lit up with trees that look like they are decorated with small jack-o-lanterns. What's ripening is persimmons.

If you haven't yet encountered them, it's important to know that there are three kinds. The local, wild persimmons have tiny fruit that is inedible until it is hit by a frost, when it finally falls to the ground, sweetened at last. Persimmons, eaten before they ripen cause your mouth to pucker. The astringency is caused by tannins, which mellow as the fruit turns golden and finally bright orange.

The two kinds of persimmons, astringent and non-astringent, grown commercially, are both oriental, but they grow beautifully in Louisiana's climate and as a bonus, need no pesticides. The only pests to bother persimmons are the birds. The only way of dealing with blue jays is to plant enough persimmon trees for both the birds and yourself.

The best astringent persimmon is a Saijo. Shaped like an egg, translucent in sunlight when it ripens, it is as sweet and goopy a fruit as you will ever find. The best way to eat persimmons is fresh off the tree, or over the sink, where you can let the juices run down your chin in celebration. The other most commonly grown non-astrigent in the area is Hachiya, a large acorn shaped persimmon.

The most common name for the non-astrigints is Fuyu, although there are other varieties like Jir? and Izu. Fuyus tend to be shaped like a slightly flattened tomato, and divided into four quadrants. The fruits can be eaten under ripe, when they are crisp, like apples, and have a mellow honeyed flavor.

Persimmons should be showing up in farmers markets and oriental markets. However, the best and most satisfying way to get some is to visit the pick-your-own orchards. Brothers Eddie and Daniel Romero both have persimmons ripe on their trees right now. Call Eddie at 364-3370. He's located at 5119 Freetown Road, Coteau, La. Daniel Romeo can be reached at 365-1690. His orchard is right across the street from Eddie's.