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How to Turn Astringent Persimmons into Enchanting Natural Confections, Japanese Style

by Cecilia Macaulay

This week I’m shopping for a persimmon tree for the Edible Japanese Garden I’m creating. Of course I will be planting a sweet, rather than an astringent, or ‘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 find slush and string almost as unattractive as shibui, and so too it seems, do the Japanese. They usually hang the autumn harvest under the eaves, and let the dry winter air transform them into something like enchanted dried apricots: intense, chewy, and frosted in sugar crystals. ‘Hoshi Gaki’, in Japanese.

Last year while visiting the pottery town of Machiko, deep in the Japanese mountains, I came across a lady at the traditional dye-works. She was kneeling on the stamped-earth floor, peeling persimmons that had been just picked from the gracious old tree out front. Preparing the persimmons, hanging them to dry, then enjoying their chewy sweetness with a cup of green tea throughout the year is something every household did, a task that was part of savoring Autumn.

In a few weeks, a walk around Autumnal urban Melbourne will give you glimpses of these elegant-limbed trees, naked but for baubles of these glowing, and – chances are – unwanted fruit. Ours for the asking, or trading.

Here is how my Japanese friends tell me I would do it.

1) Cut the fruit from the trees when orange-ripe yet firm. Leave a little ‘handle’ twig for hanging.

2) Peel the fruit, but leave a tiny square of skin at the bottom. This stops the sugars from dripping out the bottom. Don’t bite!

3) Hang each orb, evenly spaced, in a shady place with dry air circulating to prevent mold. If you have ancient thatched roof eaves on hand, perfect. Note the beautiful, asymmetric patterns the Japanese lady has arranged her cascades of strung persimmons (above), delighting and honouring the viewer, the fruit, and of course, her own creative self. The sight of drying persimmons is one you will live with for weeks, recalling autumns past as you gaze on them. In the Japanese aesthetic, nothing is so mundane that it cannot be elevated to art, with no resources required but careful visual ‘listening’, and placing so that each relates beautifully and sensitively to the other.

4) Massage the fruit. Yes, as for wagyu beef, as in a rich marriage, a fond, attentive massage has great transformative powers. A minute or so of attention every few days, and a white frostiness will appear as the sugars seep to the surface and crystallise. Home-reared hoshi gaki have a rich flavor and smooth texture. The cheap, mass-produced ones 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.

Hoshigaki dried persimmon photo from digicamworks.
No bloom yet, but looking festive.

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

My friend Endo-san’s persimmons, drying

in the
grand Tokyo garden that her
parents left
to her and her sister

Planting edible trees is a delightful part of urban permaculture. But making best use of what’s already flourishing, unwanted, is where permaculture gets glorious. You may mess up. Australian rain or mould or possums could leave you empty-handed the first year, but your new permie persimmon friends will almost certainly forgive you, and the creative thinking required to succeed will make for some good Autumn memories.

If you have a go, I’d love to see your photos and stories.

*About Shibui: Shibui, that dry astringency, is a word that comes in handy, and that English just didn’t have, but we can start borrowing from now. First use it to describe mundane things: the dryness of red wine, or overbrewed tea. At another level, "shibui" is useful to breathe in admiration when acknowledging that ‘Malborough Man’ type coolness. Use ‘shibui’ for that reserved, understated, but riveting kind of beauty, when a thing is unapologetically itself, like a gravel-voiced love song that pierces the heart. The Wikipedia entry on Shibui is Wikipedia at its most elevating. Don’t miss it.

Apartment balcony Hoshi gaki persimmons
from Nekobiyouri blog

One Comment

  1. Dear Cecilia, thank you so much for this information – I’ve been wanting to know how to dry persimmons successfully for years. Last year the possums got all the persimmons – I hadn’t realised that, because so many trees had suddenly been removed in surrounding gardens that my garden had filled with refugees! This year I’ve picked the fruit as soon as it turns colour.
    Whether Adelaide winters will be sufficiently cool to dry the fruit successfully I have yet to discover. I’ll also have to find a way to protect them from possums, birds and rats!
    I discovered the hard way that any heat at all used in drying the fruit results in a return of astringency.
    Until now, I have contented myself with freezing the pulp in small containers. Not at all the same as those delicious chewy confections!
    May I put a link to this page on the Persimmon entry on my plant list?

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