Mitchell, Indiana is an extraordinary place. For 64 years, Hoosiers in and around the town have celebrated the persimmon.
Thousands gathered from September 18-25 to take part in “George Bishop’s vision ‘to celebrate the persimmon’ – no, not the Japanese hybrid import variety, the native American tree that grows in the wild in southern Indiana.”
I was surprised to find that in the very next day after the festival ended, a few restaurants boasted of their “last persimmon pudding!” or “persimmon mounds,” and within 3 days, all advertisements ceased. Locals explained that the persimmon is a delicacy consumed within the home; it’s a sweet treat, frozen, preserved and enjoyed in the autumn and winter months with family and friends.
As I excitedly ordered my very first persimmon pudding, the waitress asked “how I eat it.” My goals of appearing to be a sort of “persimmon pro”and southern Indiana native were quickly shattered and with a very confused expression, I swallowed my pride and asked for an explanation. In case you ever find yourself in a similar situation, I’ll share that persimmon pudding can be served hot or cold, with or without whipped cream and sometimes with a syrup sauce.
Outside of the festival itself, I was overwhelmed by the kind librarians and welcoming people of Mitchell. The library serves as the town’s central gathering place, and it was a great asset to be able to host to the exhibit in such a central location. I loved the friendly attitudes and helpful people I encountered; leaving Mitchell felt like saying goodbye to friends.
Outside of the exhibit’s long stay in the library, there were three Food for Thought events. Kids in the Kitchen was first and involved pre-adolescents having a fudge-cooking competition and race to see who could come up with the most creative answers to the question “How is food more than just ingredients?” The second event was a discussion with the senior citizens at Mitchell Manor. Participants talked endlessly about the days of no refrigeration, owning cows and burying potatoes to keep them fresh during the winter! Comparing and contrasting food with the past and present was extremely interesting; it’s amazing how much has changed throughout one lifespan! The final event was a potluck discussion about food and community, where participants discussed food culture in rural areas and their hopes for the future. The Lost River Co-Op in Paoli, IN helped with planning this conversation.
Every location we travel to is different and adds something new to this discussion about food culture. What I think is most profound about Mitchell is the simple, yet deeply meaningful, emphasis on community and relationships. The persimmon grows wild in Mitchell with few examples of unique farming methods or exclusive practices; everyone has access. The town comes together to celebrate their natural crop and historical tradition; everyone participates and enjoys. But the richness of Mitchell, IN is within the depth of the relationships, resilient hopes for the community and shared experiences that unite residents to the simple crop and repeated traditions. What a profound food for thought.