Friday, December 7, 2012

Persimmon Harvest

We have two persimmon trees that grow in the meadow by our kitchen garden.   Over the last few weeks we have watched the leaves turn warm autumn colors and the fruits begin to ripen.  The storm this week blew most of the leaves to the ground, leaving the bright orange orbs fully exposed, a not so subtle reminder that harvest time is here.   A few weeks ago I made the mistake of pulling one of the seemingly ripe persimmons off the tree and taking a big bite- immediately my mouth was dry and my lips puckered as thought I had just taken a giant mouth full of dry cotton.   Our persimmons look deceivingly round, like a Fuyu, but they must  be the Hachiya variety.  Unlike the sweet- firm fuyu, Hachiya Persimmons are full of tannins, which give them their mouth puckering astringency, similar to the skin of some grapes.

  There are several ways to enjoy Hachiya  Persimmons without getting a mouth full of cotton.  The easiest way is to simply wait until you think they are fully ripe, then wait another week, until the persimmon feels like a bag of gel wrapped in a thin skin, with no discernible firmness.  At this point you can cut the persimmon in half and eat it like  custard with a spoon.  Another method is to keep the persimmon frozen for a few days until the tannins dissipate.   You can also deprive the fruit of air by wrapping it tightly in plastic or cryovacing it for a day.   This makes the fruit produce acetaldehyde which neutralizes the tannins.

  You might wonder why you should bother with Hachiya persimmons when the Fuyu variety is so common and can simply be eaten like an apple.  I love persimmons, and Fuyu are delicious, but the Hachiya have a higher level of sweetness and overall complexity of flavor.  A few years ago I stumbled upon my favorite way of working with the Hachiya Persimmon- called Hoshigaki.   This is the ancient Japanese tradition of air drying the peeled persimmons and then gently massaging them to extract the sugars, creating a powdery white coating that forms on the outside.  During the fall strands of drying persimmons can be seen hanging from the porches of traditional Japanese homes.   This ancient recipe was brought to California by Japanese Farmers generations ago, but the final product is rarely commercially available due to the time consuming process.  When finished, the Hoshigaki aren’t much to look at, shriveled and white, emaciated versions of the fresh fruit.   Inside the flesh is dense and sticky, with a concentrated flavor from weeks of drying.  The sugar bloom on the outside is delicate and sweet, providing the perfect crust for the intense filling.    

  Today we are hanging our first strands of persimmons from the kitchen ceiling.   Hopefully in a month or two I will have some pictures of the final product!

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