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'Tis The Season: Foraging For Persimmons And Walnuts

forager Tracy Branam at the farmers market

Tracy Branam forages for foods all throughout the year and sells his finds at the local farmers market. "When you collect native things, you start to look forward to the seasons," he says.

Fruit Of The Gods

While he has foraged for all sorts of foods since he was a boy, he started selling persimmons at the market in 1999.

Persimmon trees ripen gradually, so the fruit doesn't all fall at once. If you're lucky, says Branam, you can collect fruit from the same tree for over six weeks.

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.

Recipe: Branam likes persimmon ice cream and smoothies, but the most traditional use for the fruit is in Persimmon Bread Pudding.

For The Love Of Walnuts

A little later in the fall, Branam collects walnuts.

With hard green hulls and black goo surrounding the nutmeat, walnuts are difficult to prepare. Commercial walnut sellers have pricey equipment that hull the nuts, but Branam does it the old-fashioned way: he runs over the walnuts with his truck.

Customers can watch him crack the walnuts at his table at the farmers market. "That gives me the advantage of seeing whether it's a good meat or not," he says.

Preparing walnuts is a time-consuming process. After the nuts are hulled and washed, Branam says they are dried in the sun for a couple weeks. Then, they are bagged and cured for another month.

Recipes: We've used walnuts in two condiment recipes: Lefty's Black Walnut Vinaigrette or Black Walnut And Maple Butter.

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