While walking our dogs one evening, I noticed a curious thing on the ground in my neighbor’s yard. My suspicions were confirmed when I inspected the mushy orange ball: persimmons! Hidden in plain sight grew a tree that must have been at least 70 years old, with fruit bending the tall limbs. I thought about this for a while, wondering if the owner of the home would be open to the idea of my taking some of the fruit for my own. I thought about this for many days, every time I passed the tree, in fact.
One evening after finishing a long run, I passed by the persimmon tree again. More fruit hung in its boughs, and even more lay rotting on the ground. Sweaty and thirsty, I wanted to get home, but then I thought, why not, why not just go and ask if I could, perhaps, pick up some of the good fruit on the ground.
I went to the front door and timidly rang the bell. No answer, so I went around to the back door. Still no answer. Retracing my steps, I went back to the front door and pushed the doorbell one last time. Through the pane of glass beside the door, I could make out a small, hunched over figure slowly making its way to greet me. I waved and smiled to her through the glass. The little old lady opened the door and I introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m you neighbor, my name is Tiffany. I live just down the street, “ I said.
“Well, hello, my name is Ruby,” she replied.
And so a friendship sprang. I began slowly talking, while standing on her front porch, dripping sweat, and asking questions about her persimmon tree. She finally said, “Let me get my cane and I’ll go take a look myself.” She asked me to hold out my arm, to assist in the traversing from the front door, past the dogwood, to the tree planted in unlevel ground. We walked slowly together, her arm resting on mine.
She bent over and picked up a bright orange bit of persimmon that was lying on the ground. She pushed the skin away, revealing its juicy pulp. She announced the fruit fit enough to eat. I asked that if it was ok, might I return tomorrow, clear away the rotted fruit and fallen twigs, and claim some of the good fruit for my own. She agreed and I was thrilled.
The next day, I brought my big red bucket and little white metal pails I use for berry picking to the persimmon tree. I wasn’t sure where to begin, so I just began where I was standing. Crouching, I picked and placed the ripe fruit in my red bucket and the bad, in my little white pails. The wind from a storm the previous evening had done some of the work of carrying the fruit to a resting place. A slight breeze remained, stirring the leaves in the surrounding trees and relief from the lingering summer sun. As the breeze blew through the limbs, the rain that still clung to the leaves fell to the ground and provided a refreshing second shower for me.
Separating feast from fodder, my feet, inch by inch, continued in its circular path around the base of the tree. Shooing bees and gnats off the best fruit, I gently placed the slippery fruit in the bucket. The ripe fruit tore at even my most gentle touch. The soft, steady breeze continued to blow and plop!kerplunk!plop!…down fell more fruit. I was thankful.
Memories of my grandmother and her persimmon pudding flooded my mind. Like many other seasonable fruits that can’t be purchased in a grocery store in my hometown, persimmon pudding is one of my favorite desserts. The rarity of the dessert on our table is due, in part, to the scarcity of the fruit and also the amount of labor involved in preparing the fruit to be set back in one’s freezer. Finding a bit of land that has persimmon trees on it and a sharing landowner are two tasks not easily accomplished, but if you can nail that down, only half the work is done for you. You must still contend with the over-sized black seeds that will clog your food mill and delay steady progress even for the most patient cook.
I began to think of how delicious the persimmons would be and in doing so, tears began to swell as I connected my memories of the fruit to those of the strongest person in my world, my grandmother. Like Miss Ruby, she is now too old and feeble to go through the painstaking process of collecting and preparing persimmons. What I wanted more than anything was something I could not have: I wanted to go home again, the home I know only in memories now. I wanted to feel the warm, full smell of her kitchen while she enveloped me in her strong, able arms and placed a slice of herself, covered in cinnamon, on my plate while saying “Here, for you”. While there was work to be done, I put these painful thoughts aside, but wondered what other furiously simple memories were growing in the underbrush of my subconscious, awaiting discovery.
The more I picked and searched, the more fruit appeared. Like an Easter egg hunt, I looked under leaves and nearby shrubbery for that one beautiful, golden egg. While bending over and picking, it occurred to me that a harvest, any harvest large or small, seems to only leave its mother, kicking and screaming by the hands of man’s toil. A harvest from any seed doesn’t come easy.
After making a full circle around the base of the tree, I ended where I had begun. Standing upright my cotton shirt pressed into the sweat on the small of my back, turning the fabric into a wet dishrag. I wanted to do a good job for Miss Ruby, so I walked around again, looking for other broken limbs or rotten fruit I could toss in the neighboring woods. I continued to work, while losing myself in thoughts of my grandmother, wondering large and heavy things about her life and when it would end. Lost in thought while surveying the area, a murder of crows squawked at one another across the street and I snapped out of my deep focus. I turned to the sharp sound and away from the sun. I listened, wondering where the marlins were this time of year.
One of the greatest gifts I have ever received was cookbook of my grandmother’s most prized and loved recipes. All of her recipes, well over 75, were hand-copied onto index cards and bound in a book for me. Below is a scan of my her persimmon pudding.