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Persimmons And Paw Paws: Cooking With Indiana Fruits

persimmons and paw paws

Indiana Bananas

If you could imagine crossing a banana with a mango, then you'd get a Paw Paw. When you slice into the light green skin, there are a half-dozen big black seeds in the middle of the creamy, custard-like yellow meat. You can eat them out of hand or use them in the place of persimmon pulp or mashed banana in your cooking.

Collecting these wild fruits is not easy, however. According to Bobbi Boos of LIFE Certified Organic Farms, you can find good paw paws for only about three weeks in the fall.

She has been collecting them to sell at the local farmers market for ten years. To ensure that she's gathering only the ripest of paw paws, she shakes the tree in order to jar the ripe fruit off the branches. "And the animals love them," she adds. "So if they fall, they're somebody else's dinner."

More: Listen to Bobbi Boos talk more about foraging and farming in southern Indiana.

Paw Paw And Apple Salad

Chef Daniel Orr remembers his gramma and grandpa singing "Way Down Yonder In The Paw Paw Patch" when he was a kid growing up in southern Indiana. "Back in that time," he says, "they didn't have all the candies we have now and they lived out in the country. So, when the paw paws ripened up, they would eat these until they got sick!"

This dish won't make you sick with too much paw paws; it's just a great way to celebrate a native fruit. Don't worry about following a strict recipe for this dish, says Chef Orr:

  1. Pull out the seeds and then mash the paw paw meat.
  2. Add a splash of lime juice to bring out a unique flavor in the paw paws.
  3. Toss the apples in the paw paw mash, coating the apples thoroughly.
  4. Garnish with a sprig of Thai basil.
  5. Serve with sorbet or ice cream for a tasty dessert, or serve as is to start the morning.

More: Apples were really the center of this dish. Listen to ethnobotanist, author, and Father of the Local Food Movement Gary Paul Nabhan talk about his love of apples.

Food Of The Gods

From paw paws and apples, and now to another Indiana fruit - persimmons.

The ripe ones look like very small pumpkins. Unlike paw paws, you can collect persimmons well into November. That's because the trees ripen gradually so the fruit doesn't all fall at once. If you're lucky, you can collect fruit from one tree over six weeks.

Tracy Branam forages for foods all throughout the year and sells his finds at the local farmers market. One problem with persimmons, he says, is that they're so soft and mushy it's hard to transport them any significant distance. So, what you would typically see sold commercially is frozen or canned persimmon pulp.

"But they are trying to develop persimmons that will be ripe and sweet, with fewer seeds, and firm enough that you can actually transport the fruit," he adds. By hybridizing different varieties of persimmons, these fruits would be durable enough to survive in a grocery store for a few days.

More: Listen to Tracy Branam talk about foraging for walnuts and mushrooms.

Persimmon Bread Pudding

While persimmon bread pudding is the traditional way to serve this Indiana fruit, our forager Branam prefers persimmon ice cream. His wife, he says, enjoys persimmon smoothies or persimmon pulp over yogurt. Tell us how you like to eat persimmons by leaving a comment at the end of this post.


For the puddings:

  • 4 eggs
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup sorghum
  • 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups local persimmon puree
  • 8 cups sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup white raisins
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon Sweet Seasons Spice blend (recipe follows – or equal parts nutmeg and cinnamon)

For the sauce:

  • 2/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup rum
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch


  1. For the puddings combine eggs, salt, sugar and sorghum in a large mixing bowl. Stir in cream, vanilla, spices, and persimmon purée. Mix well to incorporate. Add bread, raisins and lemon zest, toss to coat well and let stand at room temperature 30 to 60 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  3. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking pan or similar-sized pan or 8-10 individual portion ramekins. Distribute bread pudding mixture evenly. Put pan or ramekins into a larger pan that contains enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the bread pudding dishes.
  4. Bake about 40 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Ramekins will take about 25 minutes. Cool until warm to touch.
  5. While pudding cools, combine orange juice, rum, butter, ginger, and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
  6. Combine cornstarch with 1/2 cup water. Add to the orange-juice mixture. Stir until thickened.
  7. Serve bread pudding warm, cut into 8 even portions. Drizzle each with about 2 tablespoons of warm sauce.

Great served with vanilla or persimmon ice cream and whipped cream.

More: Learn even more about "The Food of the Gods" and see a step-by-step photo slide show of the preparation process for this dish.

Tell us how you like to eat persimmons on Facebook or Twitter. Or, leave a comment below!

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