I learned about Hoshigaki back in October, when I friend told me about a method of drying persimmons on strings and “massaging” them every couple of days for a few months. Intrigued by the maternal concept of gingerly tending to fruit on a regular basis, I decided to give this a go.
I attempted making Hoshigaki three times over the course of the holiday season. The first batch, and the only batch that turned out, was started on November 4th and finished on December 17th.
(My second batch I did identical to the first but they all molded and got leathery without the sugar formation. For my third batch, I tried drying the persimmons outside and the birds went.to.town)
The preparation process is relatively simple. You take a bunch of hard hachiya persimmons and cut a portion of the top off, but leave the stem. (See the pictures below for a visual clarification). After a while you will figure out the best method to keep from breaking the stem as you go. I did, and I have faith that you too will figure it out a system. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Once your persimmons have been leveled off at the top, peel them. This is why it is important to use very unripe persimmons.
Smooshy-ness + a peeler = no fun and no success.
Once the water is boiling, dip the peeled persimmons (one or two at a time) into the boiling water making sure to carefully hold each by its stem. Keep in the water for 10 seconds at a time, then remove and place on a clean dry dishtowel. This step is supposed to help keep them from molding – it proved effective 1 out of 3 times for me. I figure there is no harm in trying.
Now, using some decently strong string (I used basic cooking twine) cut a 1 – 1 1/2 foot long segment. Tie each end of the string to the stem of a persimmon. If the stem is gone, simply tie the string around the leaf nub – it held for me. *Some people recommend putting screws in the persimmons in place of missing stems – I tried this and found that the persimmons slid off the screws. But maybe it will work for you.
The next part is key – and you should think about this before you actually set out to make hoshigaki. You need a prime persimmon drying and massaging location. I chose the window in my bedroom. I live on the second floor of an apartment complex, and my bedroom is well protected by trees. The lack of direct sunlight didn’t seem to effect my hoshigaki as much as I had anticipated from the reading I had done.
I am no expert, but I would say do nor worry too much about them getting sun. The key is cold and drafty.
I left the window cracked in my room nearly daily for almost two months. I kept my bedroom door closed the entire day to keep the rest of my apartment warm, and then at night I would close the window when I was sleeping. This apparently was just enough draft to keep them from molding. Temperature-wise, I’d say it never reached below freezing or above 65. I also kept my ceiling fan on everyday while the window was open for the first week… but then stopped simply because I didn’t want to use up energy in that way. Whether or not it made much difference I don’t know.
So once the persimmons have a happy hanging place, let them be for one week undisturbed (with a good draft and a cool climate). After that week they should look to be developing a leathery skin. This is good! If they look dark – but not moldy – this is good too!
Now begins the massaging. Everyday for the next week, massage your persimmons by gently squishing them – but not squeezing them so they burst. The point is to break up the inner membrane and break down the sugars. Do not simply pulverize the fruit.
With clean hands, take the persimmon between your four fingers and your thumbs and gently push on the fruit.
After one week of doing this once a day, (maybe a 5 -10 second massage per persimmon) I went to massaging them every few days/when I remembered. I left them for the week of Thanksgiving (with the window open) and I returned to find them beautifully frosted with sugar.
Let them continue to hang for another full month, massaging them occasionally and keeping that cool climate. I continued to leave my window open during they day (even when it rained). I finally took them down in my preparation for traveling home for Christmas.
As far as using and storing, everything I read said they would keep for a few months in the fridge but that they are best eaten fresh. I’ve been througoughly enjoying them sliced and spread on toast that has been already slathered in goat cheese or good butter.
They have a beautiful dark honey color and a texture that I find to be a cross between a prune and and a fresh fig. So basically the texture is awesome. The sugar that forms on the outside – no, it’s not mold! – is a little gritty but a wonderfully sweet contrast to the brooding rich flavor of the hoshigaki itself.
I conclusion to this project, I can only say that they really are a treat. I wish my other batches had turned out as well so I could have enjoyed more than just 7. I have no idea if I did them the right way or not, but they turned out delicious and visually appropriate for the holiday season.
I will be making them again next year. (:
Additional notes and learnings from this trial of Hoshigaki:
- Use only persimmons that are bright orange and very unripe.
- Do not let your persimmons dry outdoors – unless you have magical powers that keep pesky birds at bay.
- I don’t think I massaged my hoshigaki nearly as well or as hard as I should have, but they turned out.
- The white spots that form on the surface are sugar. However, look closely to see if there is any fuzz – as that, my friend, is probably mold growth. To be honest, I had a little spot of light white fuzz on one of my hoshigaki and I ate it anyway. I’m not recommending you do the same, but just keep an eye out and make your best judgements. Especially black mold, I’d throw any sign of that business out fast.
- If you can, keep your hoshigaki somewhat spread out from eachother. I might just be a little over cautious, but I can just imagine mold spores jumping from one hoshigaki from the next. Making some space between each on just puts me at ease.