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Morning puckers, but no kisses

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By Vince Luecke

Breakfast has been a mouth-puckering experience the last few days at my house. Alas, there's been no one to kiss. The puckering comes from the persimmon jam I made with a combination of not-quite-ripe-fruit and stubbornness has kept me from throwing the jam away. That same obstinateness will probably keep me puckering for days to come.

I spent last Sunday gathering persimmons from trees across the neighborhood, determined to make a batch of jam. Weekend Gardener columnist Jeneen Wiche's recent column about this year's persimmon crop drew my attention, as did a recipe for jam I found online.

I remember the first time I bit into a persimmon, an unripe one that puckered the interior of my 10-year-old mouth for half an hour. The only other time I've torn into a persimmon was to get at the seeds, whose inside embryos are supposed to predict the coming winter.

I hold no value in the predictions, but a spoon-shaped kernel means plenty of snow is on the way, with a knife-shaped embryo a predictor of bitter cold. Finding a fork-shaped embryo inside the seed means the winter will be icy. More on that later.

I've been drawn by the desire to grow more of my own food, buying into the old custom of eating things grown on my own land. I froze more vegetables this year and while my seven-month-old geese are still honking and eating corn, they'll soon be in my freezer.

So it was, with a Sunday afternoon relatively free of chores, I began searching for persimmons. I went first to a tree I knew had been laden with fruit. I had hoped the rain the previous few days had knocked down the fruit I'd seen on the tree a couple of weeks earlier. Many of the persimmons had indeed fallen, but had been gobbled up by opossums, chipmunks and raccoons, leaving few for me.

I gathered the ones still in one piece and dislodged a few more in the branches with a long stick. But my little pail was no where near full, so I moved to another farm owned by my brothers. I found three persimmon trees there, each bearing fruit. But hardly any had fallen and the remaining persimmons were hanging on branches far too high to reach with any stick.

My persimmon plans were sunk, I feared. But then I heard about a smaller persimmon tree on Lew and Doris Snyder's farm, not far away. With the sun sinking and my persimmon tally far from reached, I took the farm's four-wheeler for a 10-minute drive, forded a small creek and found the mother lode of persimmon trees. Fat orange fruit covered every branch, and most were within reach. Others lay on the ground, ignored by the cattle that had used the tree for shade over the summer. Still, mother cows and curious calves stood in a semicircle and watched with curiosity as I greedily filled my bucket.

Lew waved at me from his front porch as I was leaving and I quickly confessed to poaching his persimmons. I promised him a sample of jelly if things worked. He'll be waiting for some time.

My pail of persimmons spent the night in the refrigerator but were processed into jam Monday evening. The process was simple and consisted of removing the flowering end of the fruit and as many of the skins as possible. The persimmons were pulped in a large bowl, seeds and all. That job wasn't as easy as I had hoped and I resorted to using my hands.

I then used a pasta strainer to separate the orangy goo from the seeds, again using my hands. Looking back, a colander would have worked better.

The persimmon pulp was heated with a box of powdered pectin, lemon juice and several cups of sugar. The resulting jam set up perfectly in glass jars, just as it was supposed to, and I eagerly loaded my toaster with bread the next morning.

I smothered my toast with buttery spread and my new persimmon jam and took a large bite. What a surprise.

A gentle yet noticeable puckering sensation passed over my tongue and cheeks. The jam was tasty but had quite a bit of astringency. Apparently I didn't use enough sugar or more likely, I used a few persimmons that weren't fully ripe. I tossed several out that were still firm during the pulping process and tried to use only the ones that were mushy, some barely held together by their skins. Some of my persimmons, I concluded, should have stayed on the tree a few days longer.

I'm determined to eat my mistake and that means more slices of tangy jam with my morning coffee. I'm just adding more sugar to the coffee.

And according to the persimmon seeds I cut open at, we're in for a snowy winter. The small embryos all looked like spoons.