December 12, 2014
Before man found fire we used the sun to preserve food. And for good reason; it’s the most natural way to cook.
Drying does more than simply make food last longer. It transforms many foods in remarkably wonderful ways. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the hachiya persimmon.
Raw hachiyas have an astringent flavor and fibrous texture that purges the mouth of moisture and makes you pucker up. Dry the persimmons, however, and they become so honeysuckle sweet they seem like an entirely different fruit.
In the traditional Japanese method for drying persimmons, called hoshigaki, strings are tied around the stems and the persimmons are hung on long poles to dry. They are massaged every few days to active the sugars. It takes up to ten weeks to turn the persimmons truly sweet, and they become white in the process. Available only in the late fall months, true hoshigaki are extremely hard to find.
The Otow Family Orchard has been growing and drying persimmons in Loomis, California since the late 19th century, and they have a fanatic following. A visit to their farm (or their website) is always a treat. They're out of hoshigaki at the moment, but they've got a new crop of persimmons drying in the sun right now, and they predict that they'll be ready to ship before the new year. Just a promise will make a great present.
Next year I plan to make my own hoshigaki. Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Preserving the Japanese Way offers instructions for preserving persimmons – and just about everything else. The book comes out in August. Too early to pre-order?
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