Monday, January 6, 2014

Hoshigaki: Winter's Sweet Treat

Homemade hoshigaki (dried persimmon)
 Hoshigaki (dried persimmons) bring a sweet edge to the cold of winter in Japan. Harvested in late fall and left to dry in sun and wind, the small orange orbs can be seen hanging under eaves in the countryside as well as in the city. Made from the tannic variety of persimmon, a fruit that if attempted raw will cause the mouth to irresistibly pucker in disbelief from a near painful bitterness, these not always so attractive fruit are an utter delight.

Like so many things, the process itself is simple but the time required ample. Hoshigaki want nearly three weeks to hang outside and need a bit of special care in the meantime. After about a week, once the outer surface has hardened some, a gentle daily massage helps keep the inside soft as caramel. (If this step is occasionally forgotten, a good dip in hot water should loosen them right up.) If it rains, the strings should be brought in and hung in an out of the way place until the shower passes.

Step One: Harvest the persimmon.
Make sure those you pick are mostly bug and blemish free, and, most importantly, tannic. The sweet ones should simply be eaten. There is no shortage of either kind in Japan, and often they go unpicked and uneaten except by birds. Don't be shy to ask a neighbor about gathering. Surely, the request will go over well if an offering of the end product is worked into the bargain. Try to keep the stem in a T shape for easy tying. (See photo.)

Step Two: Peel.
Some advocate using a vegetable peeler, but I stuck with my trusty paring knife. I made a circle just below the base of the stem (see photos) and then cut down from there. Traditionally, the peel would have been saved and dried for making pickles. I composted mine, but hope to do try the pickles next year.

Peeled kaki (persimmon) waiting for their string.

Step Three: Sterilize.
Again, some advocate a good plunge in boiling water, but I opted for shochu. A friend had some leftover from a recent party, and happily passed along the bottle. I filled a small glass and plunged in the fruit completely before setting it back down on the plate.

Step Four: String.
On one set I used a plastic sort of twine, but the remaining sets I used a hemp string that I also use in the garden. It can be composted at the end of the day, and it simply looked nicer with the fruit. It was also much easier to work with. I wrapped the string around the base of the stem, spacing the fruit about three or four inches apart. Some do a long string of persimmon while others, like the residents of Shirakawago, do a series of short strings along a length of pole.
Just hung kaki (persimmon).

Step Five: Hang.
Traditionally hung under the wide eaves of kominka (Japanese farmhouses) your persimmon should find a similar home where they can get plenty of sun and air but remain dry if rain comes.

Step Six: Massage and wait.
As mentioned earlier, the persimmon need to hang for about a total of three weeks. As they dry, the outer skin will become hard and change color. Some become a deeper orange while others, like mine, turned nearly black. It is not attractive but it is not deadly. A gentle massage keeps the innards soft and pleasantly chewy. Birds may be an issue as the fruit is generally free game for them, but just keep an eye on them.

Step Seven: Eat.
After three weeks, the hoshigaki should be ready to enjoy!


Eric said...

Awesome hoshigaki post!
This year we actually were able to harvest a few persimmons to make some. The past three years the crows have taken almost all of them.

I have never bothered to sterilize them, the UV seems to do an OK job of that for me.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

How'd they turn out, Eric? It was good fun and I hope to do more next year.

Good question about sterilizing. I tend to go the more cautious route, especially as I've had a couple of cases of food poisoning.

Eric said...

They are wonderful! My daughter and I have them for snacks on the weekends, and now my youngest son is developing a taste for them too!

I think the key is to wait for cold weather to set in, then they are less prone to mold issues.

Joan Lambert Bailey said...

That's wonderful, Eric! Any other tips you want to share? I'm taking notes for next year.