The first time I had a persimmon was in Japan, five years ago. It reminded me of an orange colored apple with a hint of cinnamon flavoring. It’s one of the fruits that most people have growing in their yard, so every fall when they came into season, people would pass around bags of persimmons to all their friends and neighbors. It was very seldom that I ever bought them, but always kept well supplied during their ripe window.
This time I got acquainted with persimmons on a whole new level. There are two main types of persimmons in Japan. The fuyu variety is a sweet crisp kind that you can eat right off the tree. You can also let it sit for a while longer to let it get sweeter and softer, then scoop it right out of its peel like pudding. The other variety is astringent, which tastes terrible right off the tree. But with a little care in drying, it rivals a candy bar for sweetness. It was our project to turn hundreds of these astringent ones into sweet goodies.
The project started in the orchard. We got a lesson on cutting the stem with a “T Junction”, thereby allowing it to be hung later on. Once several hundred had been picked and boxed, we brought them back to the Volunteer House to begin peeling. This lasted for days. And days. I listened to podcasts, chatted with J and H, (other volunteers), and tried to balance Koko on my head and arm while peeling. Next you blanch the persimmons to get rid of any bacteria. We were given a cauldron and firewood to get the water going, but it takes an awfully long time to get a big pot of water to boil over a shallow fire. Eventually we resorted to a gas burner inside, but spent much of that time trying to keep Koko out of the kitchen. When Mr. K came along and saw our conundrum, he jailed her under one of the picking baskets. After blanching, the fruit got strung and hung somewhere with good airflow, sunshine, and a roof. Every few days we would go through and massage each fruit to break down cell walls and keep the juices moving. The final step is to wait. It takes about a month before they become edible. I never got to try the ones we prepared, but we did get lots of the ones from the year before. They were so sweet that my teeth hurt with each bite.