Have you ever eaten a dried persimmon? Not this girl! In fact, I never ate a persimmon or really knew what it was until I came to Japan. I came to Japan in the middle of October, and trees were overflowing with juicy persimmons ready to be eaten. There was even a baby persimmon tree in our school’s courtyard. As the season passed, a lot of stores were selling dried persimmons in Japan. They looked delicious…
It turns out that two types of persimmons grow in Japan. One is fat and resembles a tomato; this one is delicious fresh off of the tree. The second type of persimmon is egg shaped and has a very bitter taste. It stays rock hard as well. Japan found a way to make an otherwise unusable fruit delicious and eatable of course… by drying it! Dried persimmons in Japan are called Hoshigaki. When fall starts to transition to winter, you’ll find many families getting their persimmons ready to dry. They are very popular to eat during the new year. In fact, the woman in the apartment on the bottom floor of my building had hers hanging in plain sight. That was my first sighting of hoshigaki!
Since many Japanese families are busy, my school decided to have the children make their own hoshigaki this year to make sure the students had a chance to experience this tradition. Their small hands quickly got to work with their vegetable peelers. They carefully peeled each persimmon making sure to keep the stem attached. The stem is quite sturdy and resembles a T. The stem’s shape helps to hold the persimmons when they are hung to dry.
In the US, kids would definitely have a little trouble dealing with sharp peelers. The principal said that the children had previously been camping with the school before and had peeled potatoes for their food at that time, so they were used to using the peelers! I couldn’t help feeling a little on edge still… but it was all fine in the end of course! After all the persimmons were peeled, they worked the stem into a piece of rope and hung them under an overhead outside of the school. About 3-4 weeks later, they would shrivel down into gooey, sugary deliciousness!
You wouldn’t believe the difference! Before the kids hung the persimmons, they took a small bite to experience the bitterness of the fruit. About four weeks later, they got to taste the radical change after they had been dried. The inside is very mushy and extremely sugary from the caramelization of sugar over the drying period. The outside of the fruit shrivels up and forms sugar crystals that create an awesome taste!
A great lesson on resourcefulness, using what you have and understanding food and where it comes from. It was something I still can’t forget…
Q: What traditions does your family have? Do you have a special food that you eat like the dried persimmons in Japan?