Friday, November 5, 2021

How to Make Hoshigaki

It is time to make hoshigaki. Again!

These delicious East Asian delicacies, made by air-drying persimmons slowly, are now a late autumn ritual, for me. The dry fruit is intensely flavored and luxuriously rich, reminiscent of the best dates, but less cloying.

I made my first batch of hoshigaki in 2016, while researching and developing ways to use foraged native American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) for Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine.


The diminutive American fruit were fiddly to peel, but looked luminously festive, like Christmas decorations hanging in our southern windows at 1st Place. They were enchanting. They also dried really quickly, in about three weeks (that really is quick in hoshigaki terms). Their flavor was like sweetened rosewater. 


I use the small native hoshigaki (after soaking), in my persimmon focaccia from the persimmon chapter of the now complete cookbook. It's delicious.

But I wanted to compare those with the traditional dried fruit, made with big, Asian persimmons. So when gorgeous, pointy-bottomed ‘Hachiya’s arrived at our local deli (owned by a Korean-Japanese couple) on Court Street I pounced, peeled, and strung up correct, hefty fruit. I used white kitchen twine attached to a screw in the ceiling to suspended them, and another, long stainless steel screw inserted into each heavy fruit to anchor the twine. In the US persimmon are not sold with a neat twig attached for the twine to loop around. When their naked skins were dry to the touch I massaged them, smoothing out the rough exterior ridges and feeling the pulp turn soft inside their drying shells. At night I cracked open the windows, because our radiator heat was too much for us. During the day the fruit basked in sunlight. These conditions, as it turned out, were ideal.

Two months later the persimmons were dark brown, their roundness now oblong, dusted in white sugar. Their texture was sumptuous, firm but yielding, their flavor sweet but more complex than the best ‘Medjool’ date. 

Those sunny windows were the key to perfection, apparently. When we moved to our current apartment my hoshigaki operations transferred from airy windows to a high-ceilinged alcove near a skylight. The biggest difference is that they are draftless. The humidity is higher, here, too. First, because our overwintering indoor citrus jungle has grown (it actually raises the humidity!) and because we keep our central heat lower than those hot radiators. For the first few weeks the fruit tends to drip, stickily. Once, there was some mold on the Fuyus. A dip in vodka and a small fan installed below them soon fixed that. They are slower to dry by several weeks and the sugar bloom does not always form. But their flavor and texture remain delicious. 

I eat the first couple extravagantly, like candy. And then I serve them with excellent cheese, cut up into salads with toasted nuts, macerated in booze (dark rum, brandy, and Calvados) before stirring into fruitcakes, or folded into that killer focaccia. 

I still make the little native 'simmon hoshigaki, because they are so pretty and last so long.

How to Make Hoshigaki: 

You Need: Firm persimmons. And they can be any kind. The ones above are Fuyu. But even astringent Hachiyas must be firm or you can't peel them. They will turn sweet, I promise.

A potato peeler and a very sharp, small knife.

Stainless steel screws, one for each fruit. If they are not stainless, they can actually rust inside the fruit. They are more expensive but you can re-use them. They should be about half as long as half your chosen persimmons. 

Twine. 

To Make: Sterilize the screws by boiling them, or cover them in high-proof liquor. This helps prevent mold.

Wash your hands (mold-prevention, again). Peel the persimmons. Twist the screws into the top of each fruit, drilling through the papery calyx and as deep as you can go, leaving the head and some shaft exposed for twine-tying. 

Tie twine to the screw heads. You can tie several fruit in strands (like edible fairy lights) on a single piece of twine, just make sure they will not touch each other. 

Before Hanging: Briefly dunk the whole stringful (or individual strings) of fruit into a pot of boiling water and remove at once. Or, use alcohol: Place the persimmons in a shallow bowl and pour a little vodka or other high proof alcohol over them. I reuse the same vodka for my whole batch. (Then I strain it and shake it up in a cocktail.) 

Hanging the fruit: Ideally, hang the hoshigaki in a sunny spot with decent airflow. If the space is neither sunny nor breezy a fan is close to essential. 

Massaging: When the exterior of the peeled fruits has dried to the touch - usually a few days after peeling (unless your environment is very dry), give them a gentle squeeze all around. With clean hands. As time passes you will notice the interior yielding more and more, until you can manipulate the whole fruit without damaging the exterior.

Drying times vary a lot, depending heat, humidity and airflow. Six to 12 weeks is average. The degree of dryness is also a personal preference. You may prefer them more sticky on the inside. Experiment. 

Hoshigaki Tips: 

Choose hard persimmons (I know, an exception to the super-ripe Hachiya rule). Soft, ripe ones will turn syrupy very soon. They may also slip right off their attachments and plop stickily onto whatever you have below. 

Use stainless steel screws. They will not rust inside the moist interior and they are food safe (sheet metal screws are not).

Use a fan: If the indoor humidity is high or the airflow doesn't...flow...mold can form. If you see a very syrupy exterior, you need more moving air. 

If you spot mold: Remove the mold with a pastry brush, then brush some high proof alcohol over the fruit. Hang them again. (Do not mistake the perfect sugar bloom for mold!)

Windows. If you can hang the hoshigaki in a sunny window, do it.

Hachiyas are more expensive. Go for Fuyus if you are on a budget. They taste very similar, dried.

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Forage, Harvest, Feast 



7 comments:

  1. I'm thoroughly enjoying the "story" and the deep, rich color of these fruits. I hesitate to eat them due to food allergy. I shall be content to shop my local H-mart and hang them as you've shown. So beautiful. Thank you.

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    1. Oh, no. I am sorry about your persimmon allergy!

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  2. Your apartment must smell wonderful!
    I sometimes see persimmon in the supermarket here, but don't imagine they're locally-grown! There was a very productive old tree beside the tennis court where we lived (south of Brisbane) and, in season, my kit bag was full after every match! Sadly, not a non-astringent variety, but they cooked well.

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    Replies
    1. The ones you see may well be Australian-grown, especially if they appear in your autumn. They don't really have a smell/scent, while drying. The astringent-when-firm Hachiya-types are delectable when soft. Just keep them at room temperature until they are ready.

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  3. Our dry cleaner has a tree and every fall I watch them ripen with envy. They soon disappear and I know the family is enjoying them. Envy grows!

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  4. We have a fuyu tree that gives us wonderful fruit. We tried drying them a few years ago without success, but we had no idea what we were doing. This year, thanks to your excellent tutorial, we are ready to try again. ~ skye

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  5. Maybe next year??!! The squirrels ate every last one off our tree. Hoping some scary plastic owls will scare them away.

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