Partial to Home: Persimmons and possums


Birney Imes



"Opossums in particular enjoy persimmon fruit and may be seen foraging in your tree at night. While opossums do not typically cause damage to structures or gardens, they may steal your persimmon fruit before it is ripe, preventing you from harvesting the rewards of your hard work."


-- Advice from SFGate, an online news source




Persimmon growers, take heart, there is an alternative if our local possums -- this is Possum Town, after all -- are preventing you from "harvesting the rewards of your hard work."


You can make for Sessums and Reese Orchards as my buddy HD Taylor and I did one sunny morning this past week.


We had encountered the native persimmon on our kayaking outings -- and occasionally suffered the consequences of impatience, i.e. eating an unripe persimmon, which is like taking a mouthful of chalk. Ripe native persimmons can be hard to come by as -- in addition to possums -- deer, raccoons, black bear and skunks love the fruit.


The fleshy, seedless Asian or Japanese persimmon offers an altogether different culinary experience by comparison to the small, seedy natives.


The morning drive to Sessums, allowed us to make a quick check of water levels of Catalpa Creek near EMCC-Mayhew, a trickling stream most of the time, occasionally transformed by our periodic monsoons into a raging torrent, and took us past fields of unpicked cotton and long dormant concrete silos.


David Reese, wearing a well worn wide-brim straw hat and a fresh pair of Mucks greeted us and issued white plastic pails with a plastic bag liner and a clipper device that resembled a trash grabber, only four or five times longer.


David's father, Jack, planted blueberries here and opened a U-Pick orchard in the early 80s. The persimmons, pears and muscadines came later. With the passing of his father, management of the farm fell to David, the youngest of seven siblings. Though he had studied music at Millsaps -- he plays organ and piano for a nearby rural church and a church in Starkville -- running the orchard came naturally. He had, after all, grown up on the farm and tended the vegetable garden that fed his family.


As we were the only pickers there that morning, David accompanied us, offering a running commentary on the different types of persimmon, which, generally speaking, are either astringent (cone shaped and unpleasant unless mushy ripe) or non-astringent (pumpkin shaped and can be eaten like an apple any time).


The astringent Asian persimmons, when fully ripened, are sweeter and have a texture and flavor that resemble mango with a hint of plum. First-timers respond wide-eyed to their ambrosia-like taste.


Many of David's customers are Asian who come from the surrounding area, Cambodian, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese.


Occasionally Asian customers, some of whom are donut shop owners in Jackson, come on Sundays to pick and picnic in the orchard, making a day of it.


At our host's insistence, we sampled the fruit as we moved about the 11-acre orchard. The pears have come and gone and there was a sampling of muscadines, of which Reese has half a dozen or so varieties, all delicious. He no longer offers blueberries.


It took a while to get the hang of the picker/clipper. In an hour or so our buckets and stomachs were full of the delicious fruit.


Despite the deer and birds, Reese's trees are bent with persimmons -- they look like miniature pumpkins. He guesses he'll have fruit for two more weeks or so.


On the way home HD, at David's suggestion, said he was going to dry some of our bounty in the dehydrator he uses for deer meat.


Our persimmon story doesn't end here.


As it happens Berkley Hudson has been in town this past week working on a National-Endowment-for-the-Humanities funded project centered on the work of O.N. Pruitt, the photographer who worked in Columbus for much of the first half of the 20th century.


The first stop of what will be a major touring exhibition is the Rosenzweig Arts Center in October 2021.


Berkley, three other Columbus boys and myself, purchased the collection decades ago, now permanently housed in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.


A not-insignificant side benefit of our preservation project is the deepened and enduring bond of friendship it has fostered between us, Berkley, Jim Carnes, David and Mark Gooch and myself. We refer to ourselves as the Possum Boys, a paean to our hometown.


On Wednesday Berkley and I drove to Birmingham to visit with Mark and Jim. Mark lives in Birmingham, Jim in Montgomery. Almost as an afterthought, I took four ripe persimmons from the refrigerator and put into a plastic container to take.


We met at Railroad Park, a recently created, really cool 19-acre public space in the middle of Birmingham that features walking trails, native plantings and open gathering places.


We sat on wooden benches next to a pond. Large koi and Asian carp, expectant and waiting, patrolled the area behind us.


We talked and laughed as friends with long histories do. After a time I pulled out the persimmons. Each of the Possums took one. The moment had a sacramental quality.


And then, on this glorious fall day, we, four graying men, longtime friends, quietly ate the luscious fruit.



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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