Gene Stafford is known as the “Persimmon King” in north-central North Carolina, a title bestowed upon him shortly after he founded the Colfax Persimmon Festival. A former tobacco farmer and college instructor, Gene is now the biggest champion of the American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). His annual festival—inaugurated in 2008—brings thousands of people to Guilford County every November to taste and celebrate this sweet, luscious, native fruit. And Gene just might be the largest producer of persimmon pulp in the country, selling over a thousand pounds of the gooey goodness each year.
Since American persimmons are rather small (about the size of a large grape) and have about a half-dozen largish seeds, almost every recipe begins by extracting a sufficient amount of pulp, which means you need a lot of fruit. I’ve purchased frozen persimmon pulp from Gene, which saves considerable time. But if you are like me and want to extract the pulp yourself from time to time, invest in a quality chinois. Gene says he has used more expensive food mills with large bowls and crushing plates attached to a crank, but he says he gets better results from a chinois. Still, extracting enough persimmon pulp for even a few recipes takes time.
If you don’t have a chinois or a food mill, Gene says a supported colander with holes no larger than about 1/32 inch will work too. Simply fashion a pestle from a tree branch, an old baseball bat, or a shovel handle, toss in ripe persimmons, and gently mash the soft fruits through the colander. The seeds will remain in the colander, but some skin will likely push through. Don’t fret over this. It is inevitable even with a fancy food mill, and the skin gives the pulp a satisfying, toothsome texture.