By Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D.
October 28, 2021
Fuju Persimmons are grown in more than 60 orchards in Georgia.
When I think about crops in Georgia of course peaches come to mind. And pecans. And, even Vidalia onions. But on a recent road trip across the middle of Georgia I saw none of these. Rightly so. The Vidalia onion season, from April on until the bulbs are sold, is long over. Peaches are available from May to September and this season is over too. But the pecan season is said to be in October and November. In other words now, but where were they?
No matter. The crops I did see filled me with delight. No matter how many drives I take through the Deep South I am always fascinated by the fields of cotton ever since I spent a childhood summer in Alabama. And in the middle of Georgia last week, cotton was king. I couldn’t help singing (badly) “I wish I was in the land of cotton” as my friend Betty Duckworth and I drove on country roads past fields of ripe plants bursting with cotton. Nearby fields were empty and inhabited instead by huge cylindrical bales of cotton all ready for shipping. Along the road edge fluffy white cotton bits looked like litter at first, until I figured out the source. It was cotton season for sure.
A bit further west we were surprised by an orchard full of trees bearing bright orange fruit. Surely there were no oranges growing here. What were these? It didn’t take long until we saw a sign advertising a persimmon farm and a dirt road heading behind the groves. We called the phone number on the sign and were quickly invited in to see their orchard. This road was heading far off the beaten track—in other words, perfect!
Soon we were parked at “persimmon packing central,” a pole barn where workers were putting persimmons in crates. This wasn’t the selling point though, and we back tracked to another persimmon laded barn where the orchard owner greeted us and wanted to know if we wanted to pick our own, like many people did most weekends. But no, all we wanted was a couple of them, just a taste. The minimum I could buy was $7 worth, a brown bag full of more persimmons than I had any use for.
When we continued driving Betty and I shared one cut-up persimmon but the rest remained in her car getting ripe. At home a couple of days later I ate as many persimmons as I could, cut up with yogurt, and then discovered an on-line recipe for persimmon muffins to use up the rest. These were the best muffins ever–I sure wish I had more persimmons!
But Betty and I were curious about pecans. According to the internet this was prime pecan season and we expected to see roadside stands selling whole pecans, shelled pecans and all kinds of pecan delicacies. But there were no pecans anywhere along our route, at least that we could see.
At lunch time Google led us to a country-style restaurant on a side road in the middle of a residential area that you had to know about to find. But wow, did people find it. The parking lot was crowded, and all the tables inside were full. It used to be a buffet, but Covid rules changed that. Instead a server gave us slips of paper with the availabilities on it: fried chicken, pork chops, collard greens, rice and gravy, biscuits and gravy, etc. All we had to do was circle our desired items and she brought them to us, as much and as often as we wanted. Well we wanted enough that we waddled back to our car, more ready for naps than for more driving.
That’s when we looked at our feet. There in the parking lot were pecans, lots of them, scattered everywhere. The trees above us were pecan trees, fully loaded! I guess if we had more energy then we could have scooped up a bagful. Hey we could have even set up our own stand to sell them!
Betty and I were aimed at the Blue Ridge Mountains to see the colorful fall leaves, but it took us awhile to leave the middle of Georgia since we found so much there to entertain us. You never know what to expect on a road trip, but I’ll tell you I never expected persimmons!
Pat Foster-Turley, PhD is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]