Seasonal Eating in Japan: Dried Persimmons
A dried persimmon is shriveled and black, but tastes delightfully sweet. (Photo by Luc Gougeon)
By Luc Gougeon
I am always surprised by the beauty of a lonesome persimmon tree minding its own business on some isolated mountain road. The bright orange fruits on the naked branches delicately punctuate autumn, and as a bonus they are also delicious.
I was introduced to persimmon drying in one of my elementary schools after a local farmer gave us a couple crates of ripe persimmon. I spent a whole afternoon peeling fruits with the kids and learning about this amazing fruit. Dried persimmons are sweet and delicious and they’re very easy to make.
There are two types of persimmon (kaki) in Japan. The first type is the non-astringent type that can be eaten like an apple. The flesh is hard, yet sweet enough to be enjoyed as is. The second one is the astringent type. This fruit is inedible if unripe, but when it’s ripe, the flesh becomes like jelly and the fruit is very sweet. You can eat it with a spoon; just don’t let the messy texture turn you off. For those of you wondering what astringency is, it’s the chemical reaction in your mouth created by a food or a drink that gives you the impression that your saliva is rough and your mouth as gone dry.
Most persimmons in Japan come with about an inch of branch still attached to the stem. The tool used to cut kaki off the tree is an ingenious contraption that lets you cut the fruit while grabbing it at the same time so it doesn’t fall to the ground. This little T-shaped stem is very useful because you can attach a string to it to hang and dry the persimmons. Here’s what you’ll need to do:
Step 1: Remove the hard leaves while keeping the stem intact.
Step 2: Remove the skin of the persimmons with a sharp knife.
Step 3: Blanch the persimmons in boiling water for 10 to 15 seconds.
Step 4: Now you must string up the persimmons. You will need a cheap piece of plastic rope (ask your fellow teachers if you don’t know where to find any). Once you have tied the persimmons to the rope, hang them outside where they will be protected from the rain. Let the fruit air dry for a couple of days. The fruit will turn brown and the natural sugar will start to concentrate. As it dries, the persimmon will shrink and dry up until the skin is leathery. Some people massage the fruit to distribute the sugar and break up the tissues, though this step is not necessary.
Once the fruit is dry, you can bring it inside and store it in a dry container. You will notice the formation of a white powder on the fruit. This is perfectly normal; it’s just the fruit’s sugar crystallized on the surface.
That’s all there is to it. So the next time a friendly co-worker blesses you with a bunch of persimmons from his yard, give this sweet treat a shot!