Celebrate the Season with Japanese Dried Persimmons
While apples are the gem of autumn, their year-round availability decreases the preciousness of their seasonality. For that reason, I think that the persimmon is truly the crown jewel of the fall. Its trees are a wonderful sight, bearing ripe fruit after its leaves have shed for the winter.
Rare for our global produce market, autumn and winter are the only times of the year that you’ll see persimmons. You’ll find them in spiced cookies, ice cream, and dried at farm stands. Of the two most commonly cultivated varieties in California, Hachiyas are typically used for baking. There’s a phrase, “Don’t let the Hachiyas Fuyu,” that is meant to remind us which variety is good to eat raw. Biting into a raw Hachiya persimmon will suck all of the moisture out of your mouth and leave you with an unpleasant sensation. But I’m here to extoll the virtues of Hachiya persimmons. These are the larger, acorn shaped variety. Joy lies in this variety of fruit—you just have to work for it.
I’m talking about hoshigaki, Japanese dried persimmons. Drying Hachiya persimmons is a process that can involve the whole family, create lovely seasonal decorations, and make a great addition to a cheese board. The final product is a succulent treat with a texture similar to that of a dried apricot and a taste without dried apricots’ pucker. Suzanne Goin, in The A.O.C. Cookbook, referred to hoshigaki as “the Kobe beef of the fruit world,” and once you make them, you’ll understand why!
Native to Asia, persimmons were introduced to California agriculture in the 1850s by Japanese farmers in the Central Valley. Hoshigaki was a way to preserve the fruit through the winter months. Although most of the Japanese farmers were removed from the Valley and interred during World War II, the tradition of hoshigaki lives on, though not commercially. You can sometimes find them in specialty grocery stores or farmers’ markets, but for prices that reflect the care and consideration required to produce them (upwards of $35/pound). The final product is indeed precious, with crystalized sugar on its skin and a perfectly chewy, candy-like texture.
To prepare hoshigaki, you’ll need some string, a vegetable peeler, a place to hang them (windows are great!), and some TLC. It’s a meditation during the changing season, to look out the window and see the leaves falling and gently coax the sweetness from these tannic fruits.
First, find some Hachiya persimmons! You should find them in abundance at your farmers’ market from October through December, but if you’re lucky, you may have a neighbor with a tree, and those folks are often happy to share the abundance of these prolific trees. Try to pick still-firm fruit with longer, T-shaped stems.
Once you have your bounty inside, take a moment to breathe the cooling air and appreciate that unmistakable and temporal smell of fall. Lay some parchment paper across your work surface, as this process can get kind of sticky. Wash the persimmons, and peel the fruits with a vegetable peeler. Don’t peel too deep into the flesh of the fruit, and leave the crown of the hardened leaves around the stem at the top.
After peeling, tie a string to the stem and hang the fruit in front of a window, or on a drying rack. Feel free to improvise; just make sure that you have adequate ventilation to prevent attracting bugs. I love hanging them in the window because they are so seasonal that they are like decorations and they last from Halloween to New Year’s.
Once they’re hung, you can leave them for a couple of days until a second skin begins to form on the exterior of the fruit. Once this skin is established, softly massage the fruits once every day, encouraging the flesh to break down, but not so hard as to break the skin. After a couple of weeks, the flesh should be malleable inside of the skin, kind of like a jelly. You’ll do this for about four to six weeks, or until a white powder begins to bloom on the skin. This might look a little like mold, but it’s the sugars crystalizing and emerging from the fruit and signaling that the process is finished.
After crystallization, snip the strings and use a rolling pin to gently flatten them. You can then store them in a sealed container in the fridge or pantry. They should be fine for weeks or months to come. The final product will have notes of honey, cinnamon, pumpkin, and, of course, persimmon! Before serving, slice them and make sure to remove the seeds. They will be a hit on a cheese board; I love to serve them with walnuts, almonds, and bleu cheese. Or use them in cakes, granola, and salads.
Maverick and Dani Watson live in Chico and collaborate on creative projects ranging from photography, leather and wood craft. They also share a specific passion for food and food experiences. When we’re not in a pandemic, they host seasonal dinners with a focus on locally sourced ingredients and inventive California cuisine under the company name Steer+Arbor.