It is winter, and it is persimmon season. Arriving with holiday lights and dark afternoons, the vivid fruits have flocked across the continent from California, to glow exotically in produce aisles and on fruit stand sidewalks.
It is time to make hoshigaki.
In Japan, where thousands of bright-orange, peeled kaki are strung up in commercial rows, like curtains of edible Christo, or hung in aesthetic perfection under domestic eaves, hoshigaki are a siren call to Instagrammers, their viral potential too keen to ignore. Stateside, apartment kitchens are festooned with brilliant fruit. After a slow burn of a couple of years, social media is incandescent with persimmons. Everyone is drying them.
With good reason. If you have ever tasted an unripe “Hachiya” your repelled tongue will have reacted by growing an instant, shocked fur coat. It may be why you never tried one again. But the same astringent fruit delivers luxe, chewy caramel after being dried gently for months. The dark delicacies look melted, then prehistorically petrified. The best are cloaked in a white bloom, a velvet frosting of sugar brought to the surface by gradual drying and periodic massage.
This is why hoshigaki are very expensive. This is why you should make your own.
The tradition of drying persimmons is ubiquitous in east Asia. Diospyros kaki—the fruit’s parent tree—is native to China, Korea, Myanmar and India, and is cultivated in Japan, where the making of hoshigaki is a regional art. The fresh fruits we see at market are bred from two cultivars of persimmon, and the distinction is important: Hachiyas are acorn-shape, with a pointy bottom and a tannin content so high when firmly unripe that they must be jelly-soft to eat raw. These are the traditional fruit of Japanese hoshigaki. Fuyus are squat, with flat bottoms, and are accommodatingly sweet when crisp; they are more widely dried in Korea and China and are usually sold as flattened discs.
Four winters ago, while working on a wild foods cookbook and researching ways to use foraged native American persimmons (Diospyros virginiana), I made my first batch of hoshigaki (tutored by a 2012 blogpost on Kyoto Foodie, now shuttered). The diminutive American fruit looked luminously festive, like Christmas decorations hanging in our southern windows. They were enchanting. They also dried quickly, in about three weeks (this is quick in hoshigaki terms). They were compelling, with a flavor like rosewater, but very tough.
When impeccable Hachiyas arrived at our local Korean-owned deli, I pounced, peeled and added strings of the correct, hefty Asian fruit to the collection. White kitchen twine attached to a screw in the ceiling suspended them. A long stainless-steel screw inserted into each heavy fruit anchored the twine. In Japan each persimmon would still have the neat twig attached for the twine to loop around, but American-grown persimmons are usually not sold in this civilized fashion. 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 a new apartment my hoshigaki operations transferred from airy windows to a high-ceilinged alcove in a passage between our kitchen and bedroom. With less draft they tend to drip in the early weeks. Last winter 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 a couple of weeks and the sugar bloom does not always form. But their flavor and texture remain delicious.
The dry fruit is chewy and rich. 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 a killer focaccia.
For as long as there are persimmons, I will make hoshigaki, and eke them out. And contribute my humble bragging to Instagram.
How to Make Hoshigaki
You need firm persimmons, stainless-steel screws, and twine.
Sterilize the screws by boiling them, or cover them in high-proof liquor.
Wash your hands. Peel the persimmons. Twist the screws into the top of each fruit, drilling through the papery calyx and as deep as you can go. Tie string to the screw heads. You can tie the fruit in groups—it depends how and where you are hanging them. Make sure the persimmons do not touch each other when hanging.
To clean them before hanging: Dunk the whole stringful of fruit into a pot of boiling water and remove at once. I prefer using 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.
Massage the fruit when the exterior has dried to the touch, usually a few days after peeling unless your environment is very dry. A gentle squeeze all around is sufficient. 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, depending on humidity. 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.
- Choose hard persimmons. 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 is stagnant, 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.
Where to Buy Brooklyn Persimmons
Korean-owned groceries often have high quality Hachiyas.
Fei Long Supermarket in Sunset Park has good variety, cheap Fuyus and pricey Hachiyas.
3 Guys from Brooklyn in Sunset Park/Borough Park has sweet deals on Hachiyas.
Balady’s in Bay Ridge has cheap Fuyu’s.
Costco has high quality Fuyus in nasty plastic clamshells.