The Art of Japanese Hand-Dried Persimmons
What is hoshigaki?
A handful of artisans in California employ a traditional Japanese hand-drying technique to preserve the fruits of Japanese persimmon varieties. In Japanese, hoshi means "dried" and kaki means "persimmon". Hoshigaki is the result of a slow and meticulous preservation process.
How is hoshigaki made?
The drying process requires a great deal of labor and attentive patience. It is this meticulous care that produces a delectable treat.
The season for hoshigaki begins in October and ends around December. The fruits are harvested when they are almost ripe and each stem must be carefully preserved as the fruit's anchor. Individual fruits are painstakingly peeled by hand. When hung over a drying rack in the sun, the two fruits balance each other's weight.
After 4-7 days of hanging, the kneading process begins. Each fruit is kneaded by hand every few days to ensure that the fruit dries evenly. This process can take several weeks to one month.
Throughout the drying process, natural sugar crystals form on the surface to give the fruit a "dusted" appearance. Although several Japanese persimmon varieties are used, the most common is the 'Hachiya' variety, which can also be eaten fresh.
The Japanese hand drying technique results in a unique, high quality dried fruit product. Unlike other dried fruit, which is usually thinly sliced to ensure even drying, the hoshigaki technique incorporates a kneading method that allows the whole fruit to dry evenly into a perfect consistency. Like wine, each artisan's product is slightly different from another producer's hoshigaki.
Because each persimmon is kneaded by hand, the best product requires attentive and diligent effort. The time and labor intrinsic to this process has caused this delicious treat to become rare and endangered.
Hoshigaki is a healthy and environmentally friendly food. No preservatives or additives are used in the drying and most farmers don't use pesticides on their persimmons.
When is hoshigaki available?
Unlike most other fruits that are available in the summer, persimmons ripen in the fall. Therefore, hoshigaki is a seasonal treat, which is available beginning in November and throughout the winter months.
Placer County is home to several family farms that grow and dry persimmons the traditional way. The best place to get hoshigaki is from the farmers themselves. Often you can purchase hoshigaki right from their orchards.
Many farmers also sell hoshigaki through mail or telephone orders. Some farmers bring hoshigaki to local farmers markets throughout Northern California along with other fruit fruits and vegetables. Many customers place yearly orders with the same farmers to ensure they will be able to enjoy hoshigaki every year.
History of hoshigaki in Placer County
The oriental persimmon is originally from China, but has been cultivated in Japan for over 1,000 years. The status of the persimmon in Japan is similar to that of the apple in the United States. After the gold mining rush in the late 1800s in Placer County, many miners began growing fruit. Japanese immigrants brought both persimmons and the hand-drying process to Placer County where it has remained an important part of the history ever since.
"Hoshigaki: The Art of Japanese Hand-Dried Persimmons" by Joanne Neft, Director, Placer County Agriculture Marketing Program