Monday, November 22, 2010

How to Eat a Persimmon

Maru persimmons left in the tree, probably not yet eaten by birds because they're un-pollinated.
To eat a persimmon, you have to know what type you have and when you should eat it.  

Here are the three types of persimmons:

1.  Always sweet when firm--
This includes varieties of fuyu persimmons.  People usually eat fuyu type persimmons when they're firm, but you can eat this type of persimmon when it's soft, too if you like it that way.  Fuyu are sometimes called "apple persimmon" in stores because you can eat them firm like an apple. 

2.  Always astringent (puckery) when firm, only sweet when very soft--
This includes hachiya and gyombo varieties.  This type is always eaten when it's extremely soft.  It needs to be as soft as jello and with translucent skin before its astringency is gone and changed to sweetness.  If you eat this type of persimmon when it's not as soft as it should be, it gives your mouth a puckery feeling,  sometimes to the point that your mouth feels dried out with a lingering numbness like after having novocain.  If you've ever done this, you probably remember.  The astringency comes from tannic acid in the unripe persimmon, the same type of acid in green bananas and raw acorns.

3.  Pollination dependent (sweet when hard if pollinated, but if not pollinated are sweet only when very soft)--
This type includes maru (chocolate) and hyakume (cinnamon) varieties. If this type of persimmon has been pollinated, it is brown inside and the brown parts are sweet when the persimmon is firm.  If it wasn't pollinated, the persimmon will be yellow or orange inside and astringent until it's very soft.

How do you know when you can eat a pollination-dependent type of persimmon?  One option is to just wait until it's soft, so you know you can eat it whether or not it was pollinated.  Another option is to take a risk and cut one open when it's hard to check if it's been pollinated and is edible then.  You might find that it's brown inside and therefore sweet and delicious, or that it has no brown parts and now you've wasted the persimmon.  

If you know what to look for, you can see clues from this type of persimmon's shape and color that tell you if it's likely to be pollinated.  These clues are more visible on some varieties than others.  At the orchard we sell maru persimmons when they're firm because the clues to pollination are easier for some of us to tell, but we always explain to the customers that you never truly know how the persimmon is inside until you cut it open.    

Helen, who is over 90 years old and has dealt with persimmons all her life, is great at spotting pollinated marus, but she says that hyakume is more difficult to tell.  We treat hyakume persimmons with a little bit of vodka to change any astringency they might have to sweetness.  After being treated with vodka, the hyakume is always sweet and edible when it's firm.  For more detail about this, see the post "Hyakume & Maru Persimmons".

To make hoshigaki (Japanese hand-dried persimmon), we use the second type of persimmon, the type you eat fresh only when soft.  We peel hachiya or gyombo when the persimmon is hard and unripe, but with full color.  By the end of the drying process, all the astringency has changed to sweetness and some of its fructose has come to the surface as a powdery natural sugar.  Theoretically, you could peel and dry any of the three types of persimmons, but we only use this type.  Probably this is because the fuyu type is easy to eat fresh, and because pollination-dependent types of persimmons are more fibery and less sweet when dried.  Hachiyas and gyombos are larger, stay more orange and turn out to to be the sweetest and softest type to use to make hoshigaki.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Orchard News--Twin Peaks & Huell Howser

On Sunday, Nov. 14th, we will do a hoshigaki demonstration at Twin Peaks Orchard in Newcastle, as part of their Fall Harvest Open House event taking place there.  We'll bring drying persimmons in various stages to demonstrate and talk about the drying process.  Twin Peaks orchard is a nearby orchard that is also multi-generational and family-owned.  Twin Peaks started almost 100 years ago, around the same time as Otow Orchard, and our families have known each other since then.  Some of Twin Peaks' specialties are amagaki persimmons and peaches.

In other news, Huell Howser's California Gold will be showing its "Persimmons" episode again where Huell Howser visits Otow Orchard.  He talked to Helen, Chris and Tosh and filmed the orchard and learned about how we dry persimmons for hoshigaki.  The show will air on KVIE, our local PBS station on Nov. 18th at 9 PM, Nov. 20th at 5 AM and 4 PM and on Nov. 23rd at 7 PM.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fruit at the Fruit Stand

The photo at the left is an Asian Pear gallette that Chris made using a recipe from Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny's Placer County Real Food cook book.  This is a seasonal cookbook that's very useful for finding ways to use local, seasonal produce.  Next to the gallette is an okusankichi Asian pear from the orchard.

It looks like most of the vegetables are finished for the season, since the colder nights lately have been freezing the plants in the gardens.   We still have lots of fruit though, with all the varieties of persimmons now ready.  We're starting to get a lot of softer hachiya persimmons, and we have vodka-treated hyakume, and a lot of fuyu of various sizes. Fuyu persimmons are for sale by the pound, box or 20 lb. bag.

Limited amounts of hoshigaki (dried persimmons) are now available for sale at the fruit stand, too.  If you'd like to buy a larger amount of hoshigaki, it's best to call us and order ahead to arrange for a pick up time.  Our phone number is 916-791-1656.  If you want to order hoshigaki to be sent to you by mail, you can print out the order form on our website and mail it in to us.

Here's what's for sale at the fruit stand now:

  • Persimmons--Fuyu, Maru, Hachiya, vodka-treated Hyakume, and limited amounts of hoshigaki (dried persimmon)
  • Apples--Fuji, Granny Smith
  • Asian Pear--Okusankichi (extra large juicy brown variety)
  • Pomegranate--red and white varieties
  • Quince
  • Walnuts--in the shell
  • Winter Squash--Butternut, Acorn, Kabocha, Red Kuri, Spaghetti
  • Gourds & Pumpkins--for fall decoration or eating
  • Eggs--from chickens at our orchard
  • Honey--from bees at our orchard

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hoshigaki & the Weather

Sticks of just-peeled kaki under the gyombo tree.
We have been peeling persimmons for hoshigaki (dried persimmons) for the past few weeks.   Each morning when we expect good weather, we take the freshly peeled sticks of hanging persimmons out of the buildings to dry in the sun.  When the persimmons are at the right texture, we massage them for the first time and then the sticks of persimmons usually stay in the buildings as they dry further.   

During the past three weeks we've had about a week of rainy days, so some of the persimmons have been inside the buildings for a longer time than usual.  Because of this some of the hoshigaki will take a bit longer than it sometimes does at the beginning of the season.  If the weather is very warm and dry in the early fall, the persimmons can take as little as 4 weeks to dry, but the average time is about 6 weeks

Since making hoshigaki is so weather dependent, we can only make a certain amount each year.  As the temperatures get colder, the persimmons eventually become too soft to peel.  Right now we're trying to peel as much as possible before this happens. After the persimmons get too soft, we'll have to take care of what's already been peeled and that's all the hoshigaki there will be for that season.  In the past few years we have sold out and had to stop taking orders sometime in December.  We're not sure when we'll have to stop peeling and taking orders this year yet, we just have to wait and see what happens with the weather. 

If you'd like to order hoshigaki to be sent by mail, click above on the "Hoshigaki/Persimmons" tab, or click here to go to directly to the order form.  We don't accept credit cards, so the order form has to be printed out and mailed in with a check.  If you'd like to pick up hoshigaki at the fruit stand in person, please call us to make an order.  Our phone number is (916) 791-7165.

If you come to the orchard you can see the hoshigaki drying process and take a walk in the orchard.  You can see trees with ripening persimmons and Asian pears, vegetable gardens, compost piles, chickens and a horse.  We're open Tuesday through Saturday from  9-6 and on Sunday from 10-5.  On Mondays the orchard is closed.

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