Sunday, November 26, 2006

Persimmons: A Grove of Gold

I can remember my parents arguing about Moorpark: the pitched battles for equipment and road grading; the overthrow of avocados for persimmons; my little sister bent in irrigating and weeding. There were long days of coaxing the trees to survive and years of waiting for them to bear. Then one early spring, along their slender boughs, white flowers erupted. Bees gathered and spread pollen drunkenly. In the autumn the trees sagged heavily with their triumphant fruit. My parents had more than they could harvest alone.

To pick persimmons on my parent’s Moorpark ranch, is to bath and paint oneself in a country dream. Wilder instincts are inflamed. As they climb up the hill and walk through the green passages of the orchard, visitors report they are replete with persimmons and ecstasy. They can search and chose, then release from the boughs their own gilded fruit. This is the harvesting technique my parents employ for their little plantation, since this is a tiny enterprise of two.

My parents farm lies on a hilly knob of land that stands erect over the level land. The trees lay in serrated lines along the steep slope that spills radiantly onto the entrance at Hitch Blvd. From this elevated position the view opens to the remaining farming concerns and the tawny edges of the horizon. Hawks in long flight spin overhead. There is the clumping sound of horses being ridden and a suggestion of barnyard activity in the sporadic burst of braying and crowing. One does not have to be quiet to hear the whistle of unseen birds. The air smells delectably fresh.

Though my parents don’t live here, the neighbors treat them as if they do. They come and visit on their battered bicycles. They bring portions of their lunch to share. The little girl next door alerts them if strangers are seen advancing. All know they are lucky to enjoy the clean dome of the bright blue sky.

In the fall, if the surplus warrants it, caravans of family vans and practical sedans, troop up to this usually untrammeled part of Moorpark for an hour or so of pastoral bliss. They come from all parts of Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego county. For years now great clans of persimmon fans have journeyed to the Ignacio Ranch. They come to stride up the gravel roads marked Lisa Court, Elizabeth Way and Yvonne Circle, to be cooled in the shadow of mature trees and to wander amongst the glimmering persimmons so bounteous in every direction.

Everyone is welcome to my parent’s farm on weekend’s from 9 AM to 4 PM every Saturday and Sunday from October through November or until the harvest holds out. This has been a boon year for the ranch, the trees are thriving as never before and the fruit is at its peak.

Visitors are only restricted by the amount they can carry or are willing to spend. At 70 cents a pound, customers routinely fill bags and bags of this precious cargo. No one balks at the price; everyone knows that this is a much better deal than the days old refrigerated ones in the stores.

People pick enough persimmons to supply their every craving. And persimmon lovers are not easily satisfied. The limited period these fruits are in season creates quite a frenzy, so many stockpile as much as they can. No other persimmons around provide such gratifying pleasure.

The other phenomena I’ve noticed is that my parent’s customers enjoy the process of fruit gathering so much, their enthusiasm becomes infectious. Not only do they come again and again, they bring along others to share in the experience. Neighbors, co- workers and long lost relatives either join their following excursions or form their own pilgrimages with their own line of kin and friends. All enjoy the exercise and each other’s company while snacking on the finest fruit of the season.

Children can pull them off the branches that sweep the ground. Glittering fruit can be gathered up to the adjacent darkness of the trunk. The most tantalizing ones extend to overhead levels nearest the sun. Eating while picking is encouraged. Licking up the warm and amber juice that seeps from those freshly snapped orbs is heady satisfaction.

Although my parents grow two kinds of persimmons, the Hachiya and the Fuyu , they grow more of the Fuyu because that is where the demand lays. The Hachiya is a larger fruit and must be complete soft to the touch or one’s mouth will shrivel. It is popular in baked goods, like breads and cookies and is the one Americans are most familiar. The Fuyu is small like a tomato, and is enjoyed eaten out of hand. It is crisp like an apple with even more heft. The flesh is similar to a peach but has more substance and concentrated flavor. People from Asian and Mexico crave this specialty fruit.

The Fuyu persimmons my parents offer is smaller than its store bought cousins, but more concentrated in its sweetness. Even the least mature specimen fills the mouth with succulence and ambrosial gratification. The skin and core equally are considered a sugary food.

My mother has a long lingering cold that is not helped by exposure to the elements, but she works these weekends anyway when the public comes to buy. My father, who labors on the ranch from frosty morning until the night blocks his sight, grumbles that the result of his exertion are gotten too cheaply, yet he still clambers up his hill tidying up for the next wave of visitors.

The farm exist for my parents as a bridge to another world, a fantasy of self sufficiency and plenty. Certainly as an investment, it has sucked up more surplus than has ever generating such. It is a constant drain on their resources and energies. Blight, frost, thieves, and the vagaries of fertility make this an unsecured venture. No one of their acquaintance has dared to work at such a toilsome endeavor. Even those with the least business acumen realize there are easier ways to turn a buck.

However the result of those long ago arguments, the winters, springs and summers of preparation, are these green and shining times, when the persimmons are honeyed and ripe. I have seen people flourishing smiles and glad words as they leave, waving jubilantly, their hands still sticky from their luscious haul. All are struck by the farm’s lyrical beauty. In Moorpark my father is the hero at the end of this tale, my mother, the queen at her court. What they have earned is dearly bought. My parents are known for their many accomplishments but are adored for their persimmons. They stand unique and glorified in their fields of gold.

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