Monday, April 6, 2009

How to dry persimmons, traditional Japanese farmhouse style

This week I'm shopping for a persimmon tree for the Edible Japanese Garden that's replacing the fern garden out front at my place. Of course I will be planting a sweet, rather than an astringent (shibui) persimmon. The sweet ones, such as Fuyu, are squat-shaped, and can be eaten either crunchy or yielding. The long-shaped Hachiya variety, the ones Aussies first planted before we knew better (sorry Hachiya), are awfully 'shibui'. You have to wait until they become syrupy-ripe before eating, otherwise, biting into one will give you that 'cotton-wool-in-the-mouth' reaction, awful. I don't enjoy slushy and stringy much more than shibui, and neither, it seems, do the Japanese. They harvest them in Autumn, hang them under the eaves, and let the dry winter air transform them to something like enchanted dried apricots: intense, chewy, and frosted in sugar. 'Hoshi Gaki' is the Japanese name.

Last year while visiting the old pottery town of Machiko, in the Japanese mountains, I came across a lady at the traditional dye-works, performing the annual Autumn task of harvesting and preparing the 'shibui' persimmons from the tree outside, to be hung to dry.

Here is how you do it.

1. Cut the fruit from the trees, leaving a little 'handle' to hang it from
2. Peel the fruit, but leave a tiny square of skin at the bottom. This stops the sugars from dripping out the bottom

3. Hang them, evenly spaced, in a shady place with plenty of dry air circulating so they don't become moldy. If you have ancient thatched roof eaves on hand, perfect. Note what a beautiful, asymmetric patterns the Japanese lady has hung her baubles of drying fruit. The sight of drying persimmons is one that must be lived with for weeks, recalling autumns past as you gaze on them. In the Japanese aesthetic, almost everything you touch can be honoured as art.
Hoshigaki dried persimmon photo from digicamworks.
No bloom yet, but looking festive.

4. After a few weeks of regular massage, a white frostiness appears as the sugars seep to the surface and crystallise. Home-reared dried persimmons have a rich flavor and smooth texture. The cheap, mass-produced dried persimmons who missed out on this loving step are stringy and shallow. My friends explained to me that the massaging of sugar crystals up through the flesh breaks down the fibers.

My friend Endo-san's persimmons, drying in the
grand Tokyo garden that her parents left to her and her sister.

Hear the how-to story from somebody who has actually done it. The Slow Food USA drying persimmon story is both beautiful and useful.

Apartment balcony Hoshi gaki persimmons from Nekobiyouri blog

The great thing about dried persimmons is, you see them gone splat on footpaths by November, so I figure most owners would be happy to give them away if you ask prettily. Go for an inner-Melbourne walk in mid-May, see what you find, and start the sensuous pioneering work of massaging astringent persimmons to sweetness. Don't forget to send me the photos.


Permaculture Pathways said...

Hi Cecilia,

Just leaving a note to say how much I enjoy your blog, your art and your intimate permaculture.


Red Studio said...

Hi Cecilia,
You are so talented! What amazing art. I love how you posted a plan (which was beautiful) on our blog. I am certainly inspired.
Take care,

Kate said...

I so loved Japan and the beauty of the Japanese soul, as you can feel in this story. Thanks again Cecilia.

One day I want to go back to the Japanese mountains and villages.

Hsin Desu said...

After reading this post, I'm more than excited to dry some persimmons. As exchanged college students with no "okane" ("money" in Japanese), my friend and I have begun an quest to map all the surrounding fruit trees.

Although there have been some sort of citrus fruit, lingering pomegranates and, apparently, pomelo (found near a railroad track by my friend--imagine my surprise when he pulled it out of his backpack, asking me if I knew what it was), but most have been "kaki," or persimmons.

Persimmons are in great abundance at this time, but it's near the end of their season, so my friend and I would like to rescue the unpicked persimmons from fated to smash onto the ground, followed by consumption by the inoshishi (wild boar).

As him and I both have about 20, it is difficult to consume them all. So we've been talking about drying!

But we've some questions :D

1) Bugs--I'm not familiar with all the kinds of crawlies in Japan, but I'm fairly confident that some of them like sweets. Would drying process not invite them to a feast, if not to their curiosity?

2) Must the skin be peeled? I would imagine the moist flesh would catch more things in the air...

3) Back in Taiwan (place of my childhood), we used to dry all kinds of things under the sun (as I recall, anyway), you suggest to dry in a shady area. Why is that? Is the point simply to have circulating air to take away the moisture, rather than scorch with solar energy?

4)These persimmons are bought, so the stems were removed before packaging. How might one still dry them without a stem? Drive a string through xD?

sorry for the long post :p

Cecilia Macaulay (Tess) said...

Dear Hsin,
Thankyou for your richly-long post, with lots of interesting Taiwanese questions to answer (why taiwanese? I will answer at the end)

Im so encouraged that you are reclaiming all that orphaned fruit. What a great thing to do, and nobody really thinks Of it. I hope you make some cool ojisan (old-fogey) mates.

Well, here are the answers to your questions:

1"Wouldn't sweet drying persimmons they attract bugs?"
Try it and see what happens. Pull up a chair and do homework nearby.
In permaculture, we learn by first hand observation. Most flying things aren't familar with a peeled fruit dangling, I have a feeling they wouldn't know what to do with it. Crawling things that lick up dripping overripe fruit are not going to make it up to your persimmons. You peel and hang them before they get soft, right?
And they are astringent anyway, which might repel some creatures.

Most importantly, a few hundred (thousand) years of Japanese people doing so gives us the idea there won't be much problem.
These answers are from my imagination only.

2. 'Won't the moist peeled fruit attract dirt'Take a guess how long the skin of an unripe peeled persimmon remains moist? I guess its only about 5 hours, then its dried out and started its 'second-skin'
If you leave the real skin on, they won't dry, just continue ripening/rotting

3.'why don't you dry them under the sun'? Well, this isn't simple drying: these are inedible 'shibui' persimmons, its about transforming all that tannin, slowly, into something else.
And you guessed it, you don't want them 'cooked' in hot sun.

4. "How can I dry them if they don't have the stem attached"?

Its probably tedious. I wouln't drive a string through the fruit, the whole with no circulating oxygen would probably invite a bad-microbe party inside your persimmon. you could try wrapping the string around the calyx, the cute little 4-lobed collar . If you do, please send me a photo!

Taiwanese are kind of amazing, the ones I've come across. Curious, intellectually rebellious, like to think things out for themselves, and observant. And I'm only warming up. For more words of generalized praise, you will have to tease it out of me with another comment.

PETER said...

Just googled how to dry persimmons and came upon your excellent article. I had always wondered about the little piece of skin left at the tip, yours is the first that explained it. Your pictures of the actual process give me courage to try it.

I am in Los Angeles area, and have been drying Fuyu slices for many years with a dehydrator. This year the squirrels ate all the Fuyu, but my friends still have Hachiya on their trees, so I am anxious to try to preserve the abundant harvest.

By the way, I am also of Taiwanese origin, but have lived in Europe and USA since childhood, so thanks for the compliments. I am so happy to see that you have added to the the multicultural world we thrive in.

Shirley said...

Sounds great I just nabbed some fruit. I don't think this method will work for me so I'm going the dehydrator method. I have lots of squirrels and its colder, wet weather now in East Tx. Also, flies are bad this year. I may try a few this way just to see what happens.

yalcin coskuner said...

Hi Cecilia,

I am writing this message to you from Mediterranean region of Turkey.
We have much more persimmon trees in my living country. Last weekend, I prepared some persimmon fruits for drying on my balcony (9th floor, with south-west direction) I have a problem with birds especially sparrows and bulbuls. they are eating my hunged persimmons. please write me what can I do ?

Cecilia Macaulay said...

Hello Yalcin,
I would love a photo of your Turkish persimmon drying.
The world needs you and your friends to think up an innovative way to discourage the birds.
I don't know how, but try things like - hang shiny old C.D. s to scare them, hang then only at night when birds are sleeping, cover them with net, such as bridal tulle.
I look forward to hearing your good ideas, and how you solved this problem.

Aiko said...

I have lingered on this post 3 times now, remembering fragments of time with my relatives, the trees..and the events that surrounded eating my favorite dried fruit! I am now anxious to plant 2 persimmon trees after I move Cecilia! :D Thank you for this post!

Anonymous said...

I have a fuyu tree. The persimmons are the size of large tangerines(not very large for persimmons). Used an apple peeler to peel them after removing the stem and the hard part around it. Then threaded a thin twine through a yarn needle and pierced the fruits thru the center and hung them out in pairs. After about 2 weeks of massaging and squeezing them into coin shape with the whole in the center, they came out cute and delicious. I did about 24 of them. But when I did 40, they got moldy, so I gave up. I dried these in my 60 degree F kitchen (not much circulating air). I am afraid of flies attacking them if I hang them out in my back yard.
So give me some thoughts about the flies?

Cecilia Macaulay said...

Good on you. Id love to see a photo of the cute and delicious ones.
I like the Japanese trick of keeping on a stem 'hanger' to tie them up.
As for flies, the peeled persimmons are only wet and sticky for about a day, right? Then they make their own 'skin', and I imagine the flies would keep away.
In Japan, There is usually crisp, cold air in November, not many flies, not much mould.
Find a breezy spot. Let me know how it goes.
Please enjoy my other blog posts too - I don't get many visitors these days, or comments, so its getting a bit lonely xx

Carl said...

Great posts! I remember eating dried persimmons when living in South Korea. I am going to use a food drier, but I loved your description of Japanese methods nonetheless. Keep up the good work!

Tobias said...

Use to live in Japan, love hoshigaki dried persimmons, so ordered some persimmon with the stems attached from the local farmers market here in Nelson, New Zealand. Peeled them, hung them, and now trying to dry them under the eaves of our garden shed, and on a simple frame I knocked together. Hadn't seen your blog, otherwise I wouldn't have peeled all of the skin off! Just found this blog while trying to check if rain will affect the process, as I've only just hung them and now we've a week of hard rain.
How can I post some photos?

Have expected the birds to eat them, but surprised to find they've not attacked yet, although it could be because I've kept the persimmon so close to the house. I've heard trees here are often stripped of persimmon as soon as they ripen, I guess we've a lot of birds in NZ.

agathiyan said...

Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u

Send Dry Fruits to Chennai

Bankenchan said...

I have both Fuyu and Hachiya, and they keep me munching all the time in our best season here, Autumn. Best part is that during drying the Hachiya days, they attract less insects than devoted friends, which is a Great Blessing. My beloved, may she rest in Peace,used to dry the Hachi-ya outside the patio under the eaves: perfect spot- and the Fuyu, sliced, inside the oven, with only the pilot light's warmth. Takes longer. But do you, or anyone else know if the Fuyu can be dried WHOLE outside or in the dehydrator?
Thanks in anticipation for a reply.

Cecilia Macaulay said...

Dear Bankenchan,

How wonderful you have memories of love around persimmons. Some people never have memories of love.
Back to the persimmons.
Hachiya are in the 'astringent' catagory, and can only be eaten dried (or jammy), wheras Fuyu are a 'sweet', or non-astringent type, we can eat crunchy, straight off the tree.
Beause they are so delicious, we don't get around to drying them here in japan, they get eaten!
But you could try. I see there are instructions on the interent, such as this one from USA:

enjoy! Show me a photo when you succeed.

bankenchan said...

Ces: One of my daughters and I actually dried a Fuyu on the dehydrator (3 days at 109F) It came out looking like a little reddish-brown ball...and so tempting. My Beloved (+)taught us another way of preserving the Hachi-ya. You wash it well, dry it, and then, unpeeled, you soak it for a couple/three days in vodka. Next you wrap it TENDERLY in plastic film, and bury it in the freezer. Come June or July when you are desperate for something cool and delicious, and you dig one of your 'drunken kaki'
(the term sounds so militaristic)and you let it defrost at room temp. Next you eat it like a sophisticated sorbet, or as soft as an alcoholic's soul after a soul-wrenching AA meet. Try it, you'll love it.

GKP said...


Was very excited when I found your post on persimmons. I had been struggling with my confidence over creating a batch of hachiya persimmon jam and reading about a tradition such as dried persimmons gave me hope. In the end I was successful.

I had never known the details of drying persimmons let alone in a small amount of space. Love it! So intrigued I am going to have to try it next season.

Really enjoy your blog; research and great pictures. Thanks for your creativity.

Please continue.



Cecilia Macaulay said...

Its great to hear from you, GKP. Id love to see a picture of your final results one day.

all the best from snowy Tokyo,

Danyelle said...

I am so glad I found this post. What a beautiful tradition. My family and I have recently acquired a beautiful orchard of 100+ persimmon trees, among others, and the trees are heavy with fruit. This sounds like a lovely way to preserve them and to start a new tradition with my family. Thank you for sharing ♥

jay Dee said...

I found your interesting blog while I was searching for something to do with my hated persimmon tree in my front yard. For years I have thought it was a useless tree. I am now going to try the hanging method and dehydrating some to see how it works out.Thanks!