Feasting on Fruits of November
November often is a forgiving month - allowing us here in New England to enjoy some milder weather. However, there are many times we have snow and bitterly cold temperatures, sometimes even early in the month. I figure whatever extra time I get to spend outside is a bonus, and I gladly accept any good weather and try to use the time wisely.
Late fall, including November, also provides me with a couple of unusual fruits that I grow. Gone are the strawberries, raspberries, peaches, apples and pears (except for those in storage), and now I am left with persimmons and paw paws. Neither are associated with growing in Massachusetts, but I have both, and they are quite unique.
The first fruit, which I have been growing for several years, is a persimmon. Three years ago, I lost almost 2/3 of this multi-stemmed tree to hurricane force winds. It has recovered nicely, and has given me a large number of sweet orange fruits this year. Known as Diospyros virginiana, the tree I have is a variety developed by Dr. Elwyn Meader of NH and is hardy for me here in Massachusetts. It is more commonly grown quite a bit south of here, but has proven to be worthy of growing here. Diospyros is Greek for "divine fruit" which may not be exactly true, but it is definitely worth trying. The fruits are highly tannic, and so are extremely astringent until they are fully ripe. It often takes a frost to make them palatable. The Native American Powhatan tribe gave this favored fruit the name "pessamin" meaning "dry fruit". There are Japanese and Chinese varieties that have larger fruit and which are grown commercially. The fruit is actually a berry, botanically speaking. My tree has even provided me with some seedlings, which I need to replant as they are not in the best place to continue their growth. You can get this plant at a few fruit nurseries such as Stark Bros. and Jung Seed.
The second fruit I am growing for a fall harvest is a paw paw. I can't think of the name without remembering the little ditty "picking up paw paws, put them in a basket . . . way down yonder in the paw paw patch" that I must have heard sometime in my youth. They do grow in a clump, sending underground runners that will pop up nearby. It took a few years before I got fruit, though I had seen flowers. While doing some research, I found that the paw paw, or Asimina triloba, often needs cross-pollination of two varieties. I never did buy a second, but it appears that I must have the right type of carrion-loving pollinators because this year I got a bumper crop. The paw paw is the largest native edible fruit in North America. It has never really been produced commercially, since the fruit bruises very easily and does not keep well. It is very large - several of mine this year were 6" or larger - and has a custard type, extremely sweet taste. The seeds are huge, and it is easiest to eat by scooping the pulp out and spitting out the seeds, sort of a fall watermelon! The leaves, twigs and bark are not attractive to animals, and the leaves are a natural insecticide, only eaten by the zebra swallowtail caterpillar. I am out of the natural range of this small tree/shrub, which may be why mine is no where near the height of 35" that the paw paw can reach. The Native American word "assimin" is the basis for the Latin name of Asimina, and the triloba refers to its flowers, which are three petalled and look like a tri-corner hat.
I like the fact that I am growing native trees, and the challenge of having uncommon fruits a bit out of their normal range satisfies my urge to showcase unusual or unknown plants here in my garden. A more unique dliemma is finding recipes for these fruits, as they are not the ones that everyone knows what do do with. I understand that persimmon pudding is a delight, and I just found out that the paw paw can be used as a substitute in banana bread. So I may just have to give that a try - paw paw bread, anyone?
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