To be eaten fresh, the Hachiya persimmon must be completely soft, otherwise it is unbearably astringent. For drying, however, the fruits are perfect when the shoulders just lose their green, but are still firm like apples, generally from the end of September to the middle of October. The riper they are, the more delicately they must be handled. Making HoshiGaki requires patience, careful monitoring, and a fair amount of dexterity. However, if you follow the method closely, you will achieve a rewarding product that is succulent, very handsome, and makes wonderful Holiday gifts.
Step 1: Finding Hachiya Persimmons
Start with a 20 lb box of medium sized Hachiya Persimmons with the stems intact, and store them calyx down. (If you pick your own fruit, pull upward against the branch to retain the stem.) Handle the fruit very gently, as any bruise will create a soft spot that will make peeling difficult and may create a leak during the drying process. Larger persimmons can be dried too and yields a superior product, but require more massaging, so medium fruit is best for beginners. Call your county Agricultural Commissioner or local Farm Bureau to find farmers in your area.
Step 2: Peel Your Hachiyas
1. Peeling: Sitting in a comfortable chair with a bucket or newspaper between your legs, prop your arms on your knees, and with a sharp paring knife, cut the shoulders off the fruit so they are even with the flat disk of the calyx, with one circular motion. Remove the loose part of the calyx, leaving the stem and a ring of calyx the size of a quarter. The rest of the peeling is best done with a peeler whose blade is set perpendicular to the handle, the clear Swiss peeler is what the pros use. Holding the fruit calyx up in one hand, draw the blade down the side to the point. Only go over the point once, as the membrane under the skin is thinnest here, and the fruit will leak out later if you take off too much. Rotate the fruit so you are holding the skin side, not the newly peeled side, and take another peel. Continue until all the peel is gone and place in a cupcake pan, calyx up. The most important step is even peeling, with the minimum of smooth consistent strokes. Ridges are inevitable, but the more pronounced they are, the more work lays ahead as the persimmons dry. Persimmons are very slippery and will turn your skin brown from the tannic acid. If you bruise the fruit or accidentally peel too deeply, small areas can be patched with a peeling of membrane lain over the spot like a band aid.
2. Hanging: The traditional method of hanging the fruit places several on a string. It is easier to hang two fruit of about the same weight on one string over a pole. If you vary the lengths of the string, you can fit more pairs per length of pole by offsetting the heights. Closet pole works well. If the fruit touches its neighbor or the string while drying, it will stick, create a weak point and break open in the next step. A warm, dry environment, like a sunny window, is best. Allowing the temperature to drop and the humidity to rise at night will slow the process and make the fruit more pliable for the next step. Placing the fruit in direct sun may speed the process, but you will have to massage it more often. The fruit must be protected from the dew, or it will get moldy. If the stem is gone, drive a stainless screw into the calyx and attach the string to it.
3. Massaging: After hanging for 7to 10 days the persimmon will form a skin, and you will be able to begin massaging them to break up the hard inner pulp. Give one persimmon a squeeze just below the shoulder. If there is a little give, gently continue massaging with the tips of your fingers until the inside is consistently squishy, being careful not to tear the skin. Leave the fruit as flat as possible so it will dry evenly. Repeat the process with each fruit. After a few more days, check to make sure they are drying uniformly without hard edges. Those tend to happen along the peeling ridges. If the edges are getting hard, hold the fruit longitudinally in your hands, and gently roll the outer skin, leaving the flat edges in a different spot after going over the entire fruit. Take care to avoid creases in the skin, as they will create weak points that are susceptible to mold. If you encounter mold, brush it off with a moistened tooth brush, dry, reposition flattened and re-hang. Remember to try to leave each fruit evenly thick all over after each handling. Keep massaging the fruit gently every 3 days.
As your fruit nears the end of the process, three to five weeks, sugar will come to the surface as you massage them, leaving a white bloom. The hoshi gaki are fully done when the pulp sets and you can no longer roll it.
4. Storing: When finished, break off the stems to disconnect the strings. Store the fruit in ziplock bags. You can store the finished product long term in the freezer. For the short term, refrigerate. Protect from external moisture.