hoshigaki (dried persimmons)
persimmon season is here and madly, truly i'm trying to find a way to preserve my stash of hachiya persimmons (fuyus must, according to the first law of bunnyfoot, be eaten raw). i know about freezer jam, but my freezer is already way too jammed already to accommodate any more jim-jammy-jam. i've scoured the net looking for water-bath hachiya jam recipes but there is a dearth of information out there. which makes me think that maybe no one preserves them for some good reason that eludes me. obachan recently made some fuyu jam but noted that most of its distinctive persimmon-y flavor was lost in the process. being the greedy-guts that i am, i want more persimmon-y goodness, not less!
so i called up my moms, who is probably the ultimate greedy-guts when it comes to persimmons, to ask for some advice. at this moment, moms has, hmmm, maybe sixty pounds of fuyus stockpiled in her garage. her interpretation of disaster provisions.
moms agreed that she hadn't really heard much about persimmon jam but that maybe it was an old-time american tradition that she didn't know about. she then mentioned that in japan they dry the hachiyas. and this brought back a memory from the year i spent living in osaka with a crazy, haiku-writing obachan (my obachan, no relation to aforementioned persimmon-jamming obachan).
early one chilly fall morning i was awoken from my small, coffin-sized bed, by a stealthy creaking out on my front porch. thinking it might be, i don't know, some kind of cute and furry japanese anime cartoon animal or a staggering salaryman too drunk to find his way to his own front porch (robert downey jr. style), i popped my head out to the window to investigate. and there she was, bathed in that golden-orange glow that the insane radiate like a halo, my eccentic ol', headstand practicing, haiku writing obachan. balanced on a rusty three legged stool. hanging garlands of peeled persimmons from the rafters. from inside the house it resembled some crazy seventies-style beaded curtain, sans beads, plus persimmons. i had no idea what she was doing and was pretty skeptical when she informed me that these fruits, after sitting out in the elements, would turn into something not only edible but delicous as well. "oh, they'll just rot and the flies will come," i cynically thought to myself. the weeks passed and i waited for my prophecy to come true. every morning i'd pop my head out the window and assess the rot. and every day they changed. they shriveled. they browned. and then a layer of powdery white stuff covered their surfaces. "a hah!" i thought to myself, "i was right - rotten through and through". at that point obachan dragged out her trusty old three legged stool and ceremoniously unstrung the shriveled little fellers, offering me the first taste. for a second the thought crossed my mind that perhaps this was all a complicated ploy to get rid of the free-loading relative via an innocuous case of persimmon-poisoning, so i politely insisted that she should have the honor of the first bite. and she did. and then i did. and it was good. it was very good. it was, in fact, delicious. pure persimmon through and through. intense. concentrated. perfect.
but that was a long time ago and age, alcohol and recreational drug use have taken it's toll on my spotty memory, making me forget all about dried persimmons until moms mentioned it again. she also reminded me that she'd tried, decades ago, to dry some herself while living in the "silicon valley" and the juicy fruits just rotted on the string. well, san francisco has a different microclimate and maybe, just maybe, there is a chance of success for this great hoshigaki experiment.
should you wish to try this at home be sure to use hachiyas (the bitter ones you can't eat until they're super falling apart soft) that are a nice bright orange but not yet soft. try to find ones that have intact stems in the shape of a T. this is how you will hang them. peel and skin the fruit, leaving the stems and calyx intact. get a piece of thick string and knot several of the fruit onto each string by the T-shaped junction in the stems. make sure the fruit are not touching each other and hang out to dry in a a spot that gets some sun and some wind. they say you should massage the fruit every few days to help evenly distribute the sugars and wrinkles (like kobe beefsteak cow). they should turn brownish and shrivel and finally a thin coating of whitish stuff should cover the surface. hopefully this will sugar (yay!) and not mold (boo-hiss!). they are then ready to eat.
i will update you once my little persimmons have rotted and made themselves host to flies and maggots, which almost inevitably they shall. in the meantime, the la times and the sacramento bee both have interesting articles on this classic japanese food preserving technique.