Brisk air kisses my reddened cheeks,
Leaves crunch under my boots.
Woodpeckers chitter above my head
Nervously flitting from tree to tree ahead of me.
Oaks, basswood, dogwood, elm, and maple ladies
Adorned in full autumn colors beseech me forward.
My soul rejoices!
There is nothing quite the same as walking in Midwestern forests during the autumn season. Certainly, my favorite season of the year; especially when the walk concludes sitting in front of a fire hopefully with a hot pot of soup. Life doesn’t get much better!
As a child, I spent a lot of time tromping through the woods, gathering the fruits of the Earth, and sitting in front of fires. The best fruit offered this time of year is the persimmon (Diospyros viriniana). Persimmons are native and grow wild in the forests, and in the front yard of the farmhouse. The beautiful yellow, orange fruits fall from the trees when ripe or during heavy winds. We would go out, baskets in arms, and collect the fruits. We’d bring them inside and push them through a special strainer, which separated the pulp from the seeds. Then, make cookies and breads from the pulp. We even froze the pulp for future baking projects. When my children would visit my mom on the farm, they did the same – baskets in hand, they’d run out the door to collect persimmons. And so the tradition continued.
Anyone who is familiar with persimmons knows that you can only eat persimmons after a hard frost. They’ve either been told this (from someone with a stern voice) or they’ve learned the lesson themselves. If eaten before the frost, the persimmon is extremely astringent, puckering your mouth for quite a while until you can get a long drink of cool water. After the frost, the fruit is a sweet, scrumptious delicacy. I’ve often witnessed deer, raccoons, fox and coyotes feasting on the delicious fruits. Just last year we had a coyote right outside our bedroom window jumping in delight as he continually indulged on the tasty morsels.
Persimmons are steeped in Ozark folklore as well. The legend is that if you cut a persimmon seed in half, cross-section, the endosperm is highlighted. Interestingly, one of three figures will appear – a knife, fork, or spoon. These images predict the weather for the upcoming winter. A knife indicates a season with harsh cutting winds. The fork indicates a mild winter, so that plenty of food rations will be left in the pantry. The spoon indicates a winter with deep snows and a lot of shoveling.
Living in a forest, there are plenty of persimmons gracing these hills. I decided to see what kind of winter the old trees were predicting this year. So, I went out and gathered several persimmons from several different trees to make it a scientific investigation. First, I must share, it was a much more difficult task to cut the seed than I anticipated, but I was successful. The three seeds that were successfully cut in half, and the several other seeds that were cut not so successfully, all revealed a spoon. Hope you have a place where you can gather persimmons, make some cookies and memories, before digging out your snow shovel!
Reach Lynn Youngblood at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.