The Bounty

New York Times
April 1, 2007

I blame my parents. They never threw food away. I thought it was perfectly normal for a mother to say: “It’s starting to go bad. You have to eat it.”

Fast-forward 30 years: I’m living in an affluent part of Northern California. Life is good, except for a dark secret in our suburb. Nestled among the Tudors and the well-maintained landscaping are persimmon trees, and nobody eats the fruit, except for a few random Asian families with whom I have the same conversation every fall.

Me: “Why don’t Americans eat persimmons?”

Them: “Don’t know.”

This problem reached new proportions last summer when we moved to a new house, across the street from a persimmon tree four stories high. As summer turned to fall, I watched the persimmons ripen.

“Who lives in that house?” I asked another neighbor.

“A new family from Alabama,” I was told.

This meant that, at most, six of the persimmons would be used once for persimmon bread, maybe. The squirrels were celebrating already. I had to act fast. I asked the neighbor if she could ask the owners of the persimmon tree, whom she knew, if I could pick the fruit. I was given the green light. The next day, with a fruit-picker, a ladder, my 11-year-old daughter and two neighborhood children, whom I had recruited for an undisclosed “fun activity,” I headed to the mother lode. I picked; the kids bagged. We dragged the bags home. None of the kids wanted a persimmon.

It’s not that my family doesn’t like persimmons. They just prefer the fuyu variety, the fast-food version of the fruit. Buy it. Eat it. Done. But these were hachiya persimmons. The hachiyas must, must, must be completely ripe before they are eaten. When ripening them, I have found that I must lay them out on a flat surface; they cannot be stacked. They are divas.

I cleared our dining room table and covered every inch with persimmons. A ripe persimmon is mushy and squishy like a baby’s bottom. When it’s ripe, people think it’s rotten. Most Americans who claim they hate persimmons tasted one when it was not ripe. An unripe persimmon will curdle your tongue. You will never want to try another persimmon. But it was your fault! It wasn’t ripe!

My husband came home that night, looked at the 400 persimmons covering the entire dining-room table, and asked, in that male, logic-craving tone, “What are you going to do with these?”

I worked the phones the next day. Most of my Iranian friends, sure bets for free fruit, were out of town. Branislava, from Yugoslavia, said she’d take a bunch, and so did Joanna, who’s part Polish, part Armenian. Louie, the Filipino mailman, got a big bag. That left me with about 300.

At this point, they started to ripen, and I started eating them as fast as I could. “Nature’s pudding,” I kept telling myself. My children and husband refused to eat any more hachiyas, even though I made up all sorts of nutritional information about them. “Full of fiber, vitamins and minerals!” I said. “Makes your hair shiny!” But they weren’t buying it. They pressured me to buy some fuyus. Apparently, being surrounded by hachiyas gave them a craving for fuyus. I knew I was the only person buying persimmons at the market who already had a mass quantity at home, but I hoped that once the fuyus were finished, my family would graduate to the misunderstood hachiyas.

Then my 5-month-old, whom I was nursing, got a bad rash. The doctor asked me if I had eaten anything unusual lately. “I’ve been eating a lot of persimmons,” I admitted.

“How many?” he asked.

“Maybe six a day,” I answered, cutting the truth way down.

“You must stop,” he said, not realizing that the quantities I ate were holding off a flood. Had he not heard of the little Dutch boy and the dike?

God helps those who help themselves to persimmons, and the next day, I was rewarded. Two burly workers arrived to reconfigure our air ducts. It turned out they were from Tonga. I was so excited, I could barely control my secret plan to give them all the remaining persimmons. I made nice with them all day. Their English wasn’t too good, but I found out they each had a big family, which of course meant more mouths to feed. When the work was done, I asked them if they liked persimmons. They didn’t understand, so I took them to the dining room. They looked surprised, as if they had never seen a table covered with 300 persimmons.

Monty, the larger one, pointed to the dozen fuyus on the side and said, “I take those.”

“No,” I said, “I’m offering you these.” I pointed to the blanket of hachiya persimmons.

“I take those,” he said, pointing to the fuyus again.

I picked up a soft persimmon, squeezed it and said, “Mmmm.”

“Those,” he said. He was so much bigger than I. I put the fuyus in a small bag and thanked the men.

When my husband came home that night, the dining-room table was finally empty. “You got rid of the persimmons?” he asked, visibly impressed.

“Some of them,” I said. I hoped he wouldn’t open the freezer.


A version of this appears in the NYT Magazine on April 1, 2007.