Cool weather, falling leaves, and the first Christmas trees and wreaths appearing at pop-ups on sidewalks signal the arrival of persimmons. Ornaments in fruit-form, they are perfectly timed for the holidays. One of my seasonal rituals is to seek out the fattest persimmons I can find, and transform them into hoshigaki. This East Asian treat is created by peeling and hanging persimmons to dry slowly, aided by an occasional massage that encourages a sugar bloom to appear on their surface like a dusting of frost. Their weeks-long transformation yields a dense, richly flavored dried fruit whose flavor and texture are a luxurious and unique delicacy.
Hoshigaki are beautiful to behold, and simple to make.
Photographyby Marie Viljoen.
Any persimmon can be used to make hoshigaki.
Acorn-shaped Hachiya-types are the Asian persimmon that, when firm and unripe, leaves your tongue feeling insulted by its tannins. But this doesn’t matter, for hoshigaki. The drying process turns Hachiyas magically sweet. In fact, the firmer the persimmon the easier it is to peel, and peeling is essential (it yields the characteristic texture, and the hoped-for coat of sugar). A ripely squishy fruit—while luscious to eat raw—is close to impossible to strip neatly of its skin and will also drip relentlessly until it dries, encouraging mold. The other well-known Asian persimmon, the Fuyu-type, with a flat bottom, can also be used. The only difference is the finished shape: Hachiyas tend to dry long, while Fuyu look squatter.
Even the (much) smaller native American persimmons make good hoshigaki.
Traditionally, hoshigaki are strung to dry outdoors, under cover. If your house has eaves, now is the time to festoon them with bright orange, edible decorations (although your local squirrels may thank you). But many of us must make peace with indoor drying, and it seems to work very well.
The best results I have achieved have been in a wide, sunny window that I would crack open on nice days. The sugar-bloom on those fruit has been unmatched.
For the last four years my hoshigaki have been suspended from the ceiling in a bright nook near a skylight. I place a little fan beneath them to boost air-circulation if their surface seems to be remaining sticky for too long.
There is one distinct disadvantage to making hoshigaki Stateside. With very few exceptions, persimmons in the US are sold without a piece of stalk attached. That firm little handle is where, traditionally, the twine to hang them would be attached. We improvise. I have used two methods: One is to insert a stainless steel (never galvanized) screw into the calyx at the top of the fruit. It provides an anchor for the string, and does not pull out when the persimmons are suspended (a substantial persimmon can be weighty).
When the hoshigaki are dry I remove the screws, wash them, and save them for the following season.
Recently, I have been using a wooden skewer spiked through the top of the fruit, just under the calyx.
Ready to make hoshigaki? Let’s go:
- Firm persimmons
- Kitchen twine
- Vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife
- Wooden skewers or stainless steel screws
- High proof alcohol like vodka or gin
Use as many fruit as you like—you just need the space to suspend them without touching one another.
Soak the skewers or screws in alcohol for 5 minutes (you could also boil them); this is to minimize future mold issues.
Wash your persimmons. Peel them.
For screws: Twist a screw into the top of each fruit. Tie twine to the screw heads. You can tie the fruit on one long piece of twine, like holiday-lights, or individually.
For skewers: Pierce the persimmon horizontally across the top, just under its calyx—the skewer should poke out at each end. Tie string to each side of the skewer.
To clean before hanging: Either dunk the whole stringful into a pot of boiling water and remove at once, or use alcohol: Place the persimmons in a shallow bowl and pour the alcohol over them. You can re-use the same hooch for a whole batch.
Hanging the fruit: I use screws secured in the ceiling as anchors for vertical strings of hoshigaki, or as anchors for light bamboo rods from which to suspend them in horizontal rows (easier for the skewered fruit). Ideally, hang the hoshigaki in a sunny spot with decent airflow. If the space is neither sunny nor breezy, a small fan is close to essential.
When the exterior of the persimmons is dry to the touch, usually after 24 to 36 hours, give each fruit a gentle squeeze all over. As days and weeks pass you’ll notice the persimmons darkening and the interior yielding more and more, like taffy, until you can manipulate the whole fruit without damaging the exterior.
Drying times vary, depending on humidity and the size of the persimmons. Six to 12 weeks is average. The degree of dryness is also a personal preference. Less time, and the hoshigaki will be slightly jammy in the middle, more time and they will turn very firm.
Finished hoshigaki keep indefinitely. I store mine in large mason jars, at room temperature.
Trouble-shooting: The most common issue is mold, which seems to appear on fruit that was very ripe or soft to begin with, and whose exterior stays moist longer. My fix is to brush it off with a clean paper towel or cotton swab and then to paint that spot with a pastry brush dipped in alcohol. Inspect your fruit daily for the first couple of weeks to nip this potential problem in the bud.
And then it is time to dig in.
For more on persimmons, see:
- Gardening 101: Persimmon Trees
- Sweet Season: Persimmons, from Fall through Frost
- Persimmons: A Seasonal Spice Bread Recipe to Celebrate