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 yield 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.
To help prevent mold, wash your fruit thoroughly. Wash all your tools and use clean strings. Wash your poles. Keep your work surfaces clean. Wash your hands.
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 nickle/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 clean cupcake pan, next to a similar sized buddy, calyx up. Average number of peeling strokes is 17. 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 for smaller fruit. If the fruit touches its neighbor or the string while drying, it will stick, and can create a weak point and break open in the next step.A pole with diameter equal to or greater than the average diameter of the fruit is best. Fatter poles will also create more friction, aiding in the massaging that follows. 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. However, any free moisture on the surface can lead to mold. 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. The first day is critical. You need the fruit to start forming a dry skin as soon as possible. So pick a dry day, with low humidity, and no rain forecast. Once the initial skin has formed, keeping the temperature above the dew point will prevent free moisture formation on the surface helping to prevent mold. If you go to the NOAA site, pull up your local forecast and scroll down the right side, you will find a graphic of the two day temperature, humidity and dew point spreads. The fruit will only dry when at a temperature above the dew point.
3. Massaging: After hanging for 7to 10 days the persimmons will have softened inside, and you will be able to begin massaging them to break up the inner pulp. Give one persimmon a squeeze just below the shoulder. If there is a little give, you can begin massaging. It is best to break up the inner pulp just a little each day. If you massage the fruit into a water balloon, it releases a lot of moisture which can lead to mold or the dreaded blooping. As you work a little each day, try to leave the fruit as evenly thick as possible so it will dry evenly. As time progresses, work the pulp up from the tip so the entire surface area of the fruit can evaporate the moisture. Repeat the process with each fruit every day. A small massage each day is the best recipe for success. Remember to wash your hands. Larger fruit must be handled in very small careful increments to avoid wet creases that can tear, and release of excess moisture that can create mold. If you encounter mold, you can spray ethanol, vodka works, very carefully on the spot with an atomizer. Alcohol softens the fruit and will change the treated spot into a tender sticky mess, but it can stop the mold. Dipping the fruit in alcohol will cause it to soften and bloop. Quarantine your moldy fruit to prevent the contagion from spreading. Remember to try to leave each fruit evenly thick all over after each handling. Keep massaging the fruit gently every day.
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 hoshigaki are fully done when the pulp sets and you can no longer massage them. Protect the fruit from moths during the entire process. Store the fruit in zip loc bags in an airtight container. Zip loc bags alone are not air tight. Freeze the fruit for long term storage and to destroy moth contamination.
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.