It's our tradition at Té to hang rows of the Hachiya persimmons from the ceiling of our tearoom in December to turn them into dried fruit for the new year.
Persimmons are as delicious as they are auspicious: round, plump, sweet, and bright in color. It helps that the Chinese word for persimmons, 'shi' (柿), phonetically resembles 'shi' (事), which means matters, affairs, or business. Hence, a collection of sweet, plump, and bright persimmons is often seen as a symbol of joyous and successful affairs in the new year.
Here is our ‘persimmon compass’, an accumulation of guidelines, techniques, and insights that we follow when preparing persimmons. How many should you start with? Always a few more than you think you need.
- Persimmons. We tested all the varieties we could put our hands on. Although all worked fine, we prefer Hachiya, the elongated-shape variety, for its yield and texture. Another common variety is Fuyu, with a flatter shape, which can also be used but will result in a lower yield for the same amount of work.
- Butcher's twine for hanging
- Large containers to hold fruit during preparation steps
- Stainless, rust-resistant steel screws (if using stemless persimmons)
- Kuhn Rikon peeler or similar
- Paring knife
- Clothes drying rack for hanging the persimmons
- Fan, if the airflow is not sufficient
1. Wash and Organize
Wash the persimmons with lukewarm water. Cold water will not clean as well. If all your persimmons have stems attached, you are good to go.
Before using any screws for persimmons without stems, it's important to sterilize them for safety. Boil the screws in water for a few minutes, then dry them completely. This process will ensure they are clean and safe for use. Once your screws are sterilized and your persimmons are washed, you are ready to proceed.
For persimmons without stems, insert a sterelized screw in the place where the stem would be. Don’t screw in the screw too far; we want something that holds the fruit securely without perforating excessively.
2. Slice and Peel
Cut the top using a sharp paring knife. The most efficient way is to turn the fruit while the knife stays still (see below). If you decide to skip this step – which you shouldn't! – you will have a much lower fruit yield since the skin pulls the whole fruit up as it dries.
For peeling, we prefer the Kuhn Rikon Swiss Y-peeler. It’s comfortable on the hand, has a wide blade, is sharp, and is priced reasonably. It even has its own Serious Eats article.
Unripe, hard persimmons will peel very easily but you will inevitably come across softer ones. They work just as well, although peeling becomes a more challenging task. Top-to-bottom, even peeling strokes make for a more refined look. Some persimmons have blemishes or black spots; you can use the paring knife to get rid of those as well. In fact, a persimmon could be sliced in half and still dry beautifully, since the flesh will form a second skin.
At this stage, the fruit has been cleaned and peeled. In the past, we’ve tried dipping the persimmons in boiling water, washing them with a water and lemon concoction, and even bathing them in an alcoholic solution, as a means of sterilization. However, these steps made a negligible difference. Therefore, we now recommend just hanging the fruit after peeling, provided they were washed thoroughly beforehand.
3. Clove Hitch and Hanging
Garret, an avid mountain climber, introduced us to the Clove Hitch knot, and we never looked back. It tightly secures the persimmon without fuss. More detailed video below and here.
First, prepare the twine. Measure the length necessary for the space and do some math. It will all depend on the space. Ex: Doing 100 persimmons and using the same drying rack? You will need 50 pieces of 14-inch string.
At our tearoom, we hang the persimmons from the ceiling slats, which have enough height to hang 3 at once from the same string. In our warehouse, we decided to use these drying racks. Each holds about 200 persimmons, and even though it seemed that they might break at any moment, the good news is that they didn’t. As the persimmons dry and lose their water mass the rack becomes more stable.
If using the drying rack, tie the knot around the stem, or screw, of a persimmon on one end of the twine, and another one on the opposite end of the string. When the string is lifted, you should have one persimmon at each end of the twine, evenly balancing each other. Place the string, with the balanced persimmons, over the drying bars.
When using a single slat, consider a larger string to hang it from top to bottom. Visualize drawing a vertical line with dots throughout - that’s how that going to look: a single string with persimmons spaced out vertically. On one end, you will have a string tied to the slat, and the other end will be a persimmon, with as much fruit as you can fit in between.
Remember to leave enough space for proper air circulation around each fruit. When the fruit calyx is absent, an alternative hanging method is: pierce a toothpick through the top portion of the fruit, which will create a secure anchor point. Then tie the string to each end of the toothpick, allowing the fruit to hang freely.
4. Air Circulation and Waiting
Air circulation is ‘X-Factor’ that can make or break your persimmon success. Too little and the persimmons mold within a few days; too much of it and an excessively tough skin will form.
We use a fan intermittently for a couple of hours per day, always on the lowest setting available. With the persimmons hanging and a slight breeze flowing, it is time to wait. We refrain from touching them for about two or three days. The exact timing is heavily dictated by airflow and the temperature of the environment, so monitor the fruits dutifully during this period. The goal is for the persimmons to build a slightly leathery skin, enough to be dry to the touch for massaging.
Mold is not unusual during this stage. If you notice any signs of it, gently spray the affected area with vodka or another high alcohol content beverage, and lightly dab the moldy area with a cloth.
Another common complication is persimmons falling. This can be due to excessive moisture, stagnant air, or even high room temperature. Consider moving them to an area with a lower room temperature and increase the time that you have the fan on.
5. Massage and Care
Once the leathery skin develops, we begin massaging, or thumb pressing, every two days or so. In our experience the initial week of massaging is the most crucial. As you work through the fruit, the pulp will start to soften gradually over a few days.
If the massage is done with great strength, the fruit might turn liquid inside and start fermenting. Don’t fuss over it; when this happens, the dried fruit just develops a tangier taste. Not bad, just different. As the fruit dries and softens, it will start to feel pliable, sort of like play-doh.
The ideal texture will depend on your preference. The stage at which you choose to stop the drying process can result in different consistencies, ranging from syrupy and jammy to a chewier texture akin to dried apricots.
6. Sugar Bloom and Storage
Once removed from hanging, we store persimmons in an airtight container in the fridge for about a week before the final step. We then roll the dried fruit using a rolling pin and shape them into their final 'look'.
The last step is to return them the fridge again for their final rest. This will take about another week or so. In our experience, these last steps of airtight refrigeration and rolling help dramatically in producing a pronounced and even sugar bloom – the coveted snowy end result.
7. Enjoyment and Long-term Storage
At this point you can either slice up the dried persimmons and enjoy them plain or with your favorite pot of tea. To consume at a later date, place them in an airtight container (a Ziploc bag works just fine) and keep them in the freezer.
Dry Persimmons FAQs
What Does Hoshigaki Taste Like?
Hoshigaki has a flavor that's sweet and reminiscent of honey. The texture is chewy, like a soft dried apricot, but inside, it's almost like a jam. Each bite offers a caramel-like sweetness.
How Do You Prevent Mold on Hoshigaki?
The key is to hang them in a dry, cool place with good air circulation. Regularly check and gently massage the fruit to ensure even drying and spot early signs of mold, which can be treated with a high-alcohol solution.