Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Apple #21: Ebony & Persimmons

What the heck is ebony, anyway?
  • Ebony is wood, specifically, a fine-grained, hard timber from the persimmon tree
  • There are three kinds of ebonies: one which is uniformly black that grows in Africa, a second which is black with lighter streaks and grows on the island of Celebes, and a third which is a much lighter pale cream color that grows in North America and Africa.

Cross-section of ebony that grew in the Sahara. Ebony wood sells for $50 per square foot.
(Photo from Safari Gifts)

  • Because of its hardness and its color, it is used in furniture and is often carved in great detail. In the 16th century, exquisitely carved cabinets made of ebony were all the rage.
  • Ebony is often used for piano keys, but so is African Blackwood, which has a translucent reflective quality.
  • Many varieties of ebony are now endangered.
  • Ebony is also the name of a magazine published by a cosmetics company and marketed primarily to African Americans.
  • Ebony is also the name of a clarinet concerto by Woody Herman.

Here's a picture of a pretty fantastic ebony and ivory cabinet from 17th century Germany, valued at roughly $120,000 to $200,000.

This one, from Italy also in the 17th Century, was valued at about $330,000 to $400,000.

(You've got that Stevie Wonder song in your head now, don't you? Yeah, so do I.)

Now, what the heck is a persimmon?

  • The fruit of the persimmon tree, the persimmon, is often edible.
  • The fruit is a light yellow-orange to a dark orange-red and is usually acorn-shaped
  • One variety of persimmon is astringent (bitter) and contains tannic acid. This variety becomes soft and pulpy when ripe.
  • Another variety of persimmon is referred to as non-astringent, though it is only less bitter than the first. This remains hard and crunchy when ripe.
  • Persimmon trees actually grow all over the world, including in Japan, China, Korea, and the Mediterranean, as well as in Africa and the southern US.

These are persimmons from Uncle Paul's Produce in Oregon:

Wikipedia's entry on Ebony
Wikipedia's entry on the Persimmon
Columbia Enclyclopedia's entry on Ebony
Sofresh New Zealand, Persimmons in New Zealand

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