In Ozark folklore, it’s said that the shape of persimmon seeds predicts the severity of the winter, and in a popular Korean tale, the dried fruit scares off a tiger. But to those in southern Indiana, the most noteworthy tradition involving the fruit is the annual Persimmon Festival, held in the town of Mitchell every September.
For more than 70 years, the townspeople of Mitchell have put on a celebration in honor of persimmons, particularly the iconic dessert made from them. In addition to the Persimmon Queen Pageant and town motorcycle show, the festival hosts the Persimmon Pudding & Novelty Dessert Contest, a yearly competition where Mitchell residents face off for the chance to have their recipe named the best. Despite varying in texture and flavor, all the entries share one ingredient in common: locally grown persimmons.
American persimmons are squishy, mildly sweet fruit that are extremely astringent until mature. They’re so shockingly bitter, in fact, that a common prank is to trick those unfamiliar with the fruit into biting them before they ripen. Harvested in the fall, Mitchell’s native persimmons are small, orange, and round. The most notable difference between these and their common Asian counterparts, Fuyu persimmons, is size, but to Mitchell residents, the distinction matters.
Though recipes vary, most feature a persimmon pulp–based batter that’s sweetened, spiced, and baked. The resulting pudding, often described as having the texture of gingerbread, almost looks like a brownie before the whipped cream is added: It’s dark, soft, and cut into squares. Sweet but subtle, persimmon pudding often contains hints of nutmeg or cinnamon, added spices that some say resemble the natural taste of the fruit.
Despite the New York Times report that persimmon pudding was 2014’s most-Googled Thanksgiving food from Indiana, the sweet treat is almost unheard of outside the southern part of the state and various areas in the American South. But recipes can be found all over the internet, including at the Mitchell Persimmon Festival website, allowing bakers everywhere to get a taste of this Hoosier tradition.
Where to Try It
Mitchell Persimmon Festival Website405 N 12th St, Mitchell, Indiana, 47446, United States
The festival is held in annually in late September. In 2018, the pudding contest was held at Mitchell First Church of God. Winning recipes from previous festival years can be found online.