Persimmons abound in Japan this time of year. Tree limbs dip low to the ground under the weight of the heavy fruit.There are two kinds of persimmons you find growing in this area – Amai Kaki (sweet persimmons), and Shibui Kaki (astringent persimmons). Though the amai kaki are delicious on their own, the shibui kaki cannot be eaten unless they are extremely ripe or until they’ve been dried into Hoshigaki (dried persimmons).
The process of making hoshigaki has a long history in Japan. For many years they were the primary winter fruit source for Japanese families. They are still prepared by many rural farmers and their families. I would not have known of their existence if it weren’t for their sudden appearance hanging from the second story verandas of almost every home in my area.
Making hoshigaki is simple. Firm shibui kaki are peeled and hung in the sun to dry over a period of approximately two months (this is a highly debatable duration of time). The kaki are massaged over this time – which breaks up the pulp of the fruit and encourages the surfacing of sugars. The desired final result is a small, dark hoshigaki with a light, sweet dusting of white on the outside.
I collected shibui kaki at the end of October and hung about thirty of them out to dry on my veranda. I was discouraged within the first week as almost all of my hoshigaki developed various coverings of mold. I threw some away and let the others continue the drying process. I recently spoke with a local farmer, however, and the phrase “mold is gold” has been burned into my mind. He told me that the kind of mold which grows on hoshigaki and mochi is good to consume (he repeated “It’s penicillin! Do you know penicillin?” over and over…).
So I tried a couple yesterday. Delicious! I am impressed. They are subtly sweet, as expected, but the leathery dried-fruit texture is delightful. I wish I would have made more…