SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – North American folklore has long told the story of the native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) seed’s ability to predict winter weather.
Legends claim that by slicing the ripe fruit’s seed open and examining the shape of the seed inside the leaf, one of three shapes may be seen: a fork, a spoon or a knife.
Finding a fork means winter will be mild; seeing a spoon equals a lot of wet snow to be shoveled; and a knife predicts a dry winter with winds that will ‘cut like a knife.’
But don’t run down to your local Farmer’s Market and assume you can buy just any persimmon and find out what winter will be like in your neck of the woods. Persimmon’s winter prediction is supposedly specific to the exact location where the fruit was grown.
Persimmon Folklore History
Persimmons have been eaten and used as medicine by Native Americans in the southeast for more than 12,000 years, but how old is the legend of the fork, the knife, and the spoon seed prediction?
Understanding Native American history concerning persimmon folklore is difficult when no native writing system was known among Native Americans when European settlers arrived.
The folklore can be traced back to those early settlers who arrived, as they introduced the knife, fork, and spoon to the New World.
When explorer Cabeza de Vaca was captured by the Karankawa Tribe after being shipwrecked off the coast of Galveston Island in 1528, the four-pronged fork did not exist in North America, but the persimmon was documented in de Vaca’s writings.
The Narrative of the Expedition of Hernando De Soto, published in 1557, writes of persimmons growing in what is now Florida, “The trees growing about over the country, without planting or pruning, of the size and luxuriance they would have were they cultivated in orchards, by hoeing and irrigation.”
Plant a persimmon
The native persimmons of the New World are much smaller than their Asian counterparts, which has led to a lack of commercial cultivation of the North American varieties.
But persimmon fruits frequently were used by Cherokee, Comanche, Rappayannock and Seminole tribes; the fruit was rolled in corn meal, brewed in water and baked; some were even used to make beer.
Persimmons were dried like prunes, used to treat sore throats, indigestion, thrush, and used as an astringent. The bark of the persimmon tree was chewed as a treatment for heartburn and infused to soothe toothaches.
Persimmon seeds also were used as buttons during the Civil War.
The University of Kentucky recommends processing native persimmons and selling pulp as a frozen product or producing products such as puddings, cookies, cakes, custards, ice creams, sherbets, preserves and dried fruits.
The dried leaves of the persimmon tree make a tea high in Vitamin C and roasted persimmon seeds can make a substitute for coffee. The fruit also can be used to make jams, puddings, salads, wine, beer and baked goods.
Persimmons are native to the southeastern United States, can be grown in urban areas and also make an excellent bonsai tree. They have dark green, shiny leaves that turn brilliant colors of yellow, red and purple in autumn.
And just in case no one has ever mentioned that chocolate pudding grows on trees, it’s true. The chocolate persimmon (Diospyros nigra), native to Mexico and Central America, tastes like chocolate pudding and can be grown in some parts of the extreme southern, coastal United States.
Fun fork facts
When Massachusetts Bay Colony Gov. John Winthrop used a fork at dinner in June 1633, the clergy called him evil and insisted that God had given man fingers for eating.
The appearance of forks changed dramatically from the 1600s to the 1700s. Earlier forks had only two tines. Later forks had three and, eventually, the four we use today.
In 1779, U.S. President John Adams was called anti-democratic because he used a fork.
By the 1700s, forks had taken on a slightly curved appearance and by the 1850s, the fork had been adopted as America’s favorite new utensil.
Today the plastic spork – a combination of a spoon and a fork – is widely used, but it’s doubtful many children know the folklore concerning native persimmon seeds, the fork, the knife, the spoon, and the way to predict the intensity of the coming winter.
Native persimmon trees (Diospyros virginiana) are available locally at Louisiana’s Nursery, located at 12290 Mansfield Road in Keithville.