Introduction: The Great Persimmon Experiment (in Search of Persimon Jelly)
Yes, I realize I spelled the name of this fruit two different ways in the title. According to some internet searches, either spelling is acceptable.
My aunt and uncle in town (Austin, TX) have a persimmon tree in their backyard, and have offered me the fruit from the tree a couple years running. Last year I accepted less than a dozen, having no Idea what to do with the fruit.
After the leaves had browned and fallen off the tree, the fruit were hanging there, beautifully, bright yellow and orange. I wondered how there could be so little bird/insect damage to such beautiful fruit... The fruit, it turns out is very astringent in quality before it is fully ripe. If you've ever had a taste of alum powder which makes your lips involuntarily pucker up; or chewed on sandpaper just for the fun of it, you know the feeling "astringent" creates in your mouth.
The astringency disappears when the fruit is actually "fully ripe." My problem with a fully ripe persimmon is that, while it tastes much better, it has the texture of a banana better suited for making banana bread than eating raw. That is to say, it tasted pretty good, but felt like I was eating 'rotten' fruit. Most of my internet research showed that persimmon is best preserved by drying whole, but I was determined to find a persimmon jelly recipe... the color is just so nice.
"The Joy of Cooking" cookbook mentions that persimmons can be preserved by a hot-pack canning method, but has nothing of making a persimmon jelly in the jellies section. The only recipe I found on the internet was more of a jam or butter by definition with the body/pulp of the fruit preserved in the gel rather than a true jelly made by two separate cooking processes and utilizing only the juice. I actuallly found about 3 different recipes, but they were all very similar and had just slight variations. The original (as far as I can tell) can be found here.
A warning story using the above recipe with under ripe persimmons can be found here.
Even as I write this introduction, I haven't come up with a truly satisfying result, but in the 3rd re-work of the batch, I've come close once (and that time almost an accident) and need to get my processes down before I forget what they were, so...
... without further ado, I present The Great Persimmon (jelly) Experiment
Step 1: Tools and Ingredients.
1 large (8 quart) , heavy bottomed, non reactive (Stainless steel or enamel) stock pot or sauce pan for cooking fruit.
Jelly bag, muslin cloth, or other such cloth suitable for straining the juice from the cooked fruit.
1 medium (3-4 quart), heavy bottomed sauce pan for cooking the jelly
1 candy thermometer.
6-8 pint jars with lids
Wooden or stainless spoon
Large, flat bottomed, pan for boiling water bath, or canning processor
30 persimmons that look "ripe" but are not truly "persimmon ripe"**
4 cups water for juice extracting process
1/2 cup water (approximately -- to bring juice quantity to an even 6 cups)
3 cups sugar
6 TBS Lemon Juice
1 packet Sure-Jell Certo liquid pectin***
Heaping portions of patience and determination (read stubbornness)
Willingness to experiment and accept contradicting information.
* as this has been an experimental process, all the ingredients I have used show up here, but may or may not show up in a final summative recipe... assuming I come up with one I'm satisfied with.
** approximately 3-4 pounds, the persimmons I used were picked still firm with a very little "give" when squeezed and placed in a bowl with an apple (I've heard this helps them ripen post harvest) At the time of juicing, they were still firm, but when pressed with the thumb would 'bruise'. Also at the time of juicing, some astringency remained, but they were starting to sweeten - see also the introduction where astringency and persimmon ripeness are discussed
*** The closesttosatisfactoryversionIhavetodate does not have the commercial pectin in it. This version came out thicker than honey at room temperature, serves as the model for the AVI video dripping off the knife in the introduction, and does not make bread soggy, but doesn't quite "feel like jelly" to me.
Step 2: Extracting the Juice
To make jams, butters, pastes, preserves, marmalades, and conserves, you leave the fruit body in the finished product to some degree or other. To make jellies, you use only the juice.
According to "The Joy of Cooking," very juicy fruits get simmered down in a pan without water. Less juicy fruits can have water added to make the extraction easier. The amount of water added varies depending on the relative juiciness of the particular fruit. I've never juiced a persimmon before, so I went ahead and added 4 cups of water... enough for the water to be seen through the top layer of fruit, but "never use enough water to float the fruit."
This is then simmered in an open pot until the juice is easily extracted. For maximum flavor extraction, I simmered for about 45 minutes, and the persimmons turned to pulp nicely without too much effort... just a stir with the spoon did it.
For ultimate clarity and "picture book" jelly, TJOC recommends to put the pulped fruit/juice in a jelly strainer and not to squeeze it. I had an old bandanna and a strainer. After a cup or so of liquid drained out, I noticed it was of a milky color rather than truly clear... I went ahead and squeezed.
From the juice extraction process, I had 5 1/2 cups of extracted juice so I added 1/2 cup water just to make it an even 6 cups.
Step 3: It All Comes Together.... or Not... But Maybe It Does.
Hmm... now... what to do with all this juice??? Extracting it was no problem... turning it to jelly, on the other hand seems to be quite a science. This is where the conflicting information comes into play.
Pectin is a natural chemical in fruits which aids in the setting of the jelly. From TJOC "With high-pectin fruits such as apples, crab apples, quinces, red currants, gooseberries, plums and cranberries, you need have no worries about jelling. If you should get a syrupy jelly with any of these fruits, either you have used too much sugar or you did not cook the juice long enough after the sugar was added.
Low pectin fruits--strawberries, blueberries, peaches..... or plants such as rhubarb have to be combined either with one of the high-pectin fruits above--or, of course, with commercial pectins."
It is the general philosophy of TJOC not to use commercial pectins, and instead to adjust the sugar levels based on the amount of natural pectins in your juice. The authors provide a pectin test method:
Place equal amounts of grain alcohol and the juice in a glass jar and shake gently. The alcohol draws out the pectins into one or multiple "clumps" of "transparent glob." I didn't happen to have any grain alcohol on hand. The closest I could come up with on the spur of the moment was alcohol derived from sugar cane; namely Captain Morgan's 100 proof spiced rum. I didn't get any globs, so I downed the fruity-spicy shot and hit the internet in search of the pectin content of persimmons.
None of the articles I found were in relation to making jelly, but it did seem that pectin was a useful component of the persimmon fruit in relation to its digestive qualities effecting the colon... blah blah scientific journal stuff, pay for the full article, blah blah.
TJOC says that if a large quantiy of pectin is present, a single large mass will form. If numerous smaller globs form, there is less pectin. For high-pectin juices, use equal amount of juice to sugar. For less pectin, use less sugar. Their description seems to indicate that the amount of pectin determines the amount of sugar and that a problem could arise from having too much sugar.
The sure-jell packet says for best results, follow the recipe exactly. Hmm... didn't have a recipe to start with. Their process for a gel-set failure seems to indicate that a problem could arise from having too little sugar.
Since there is a chemical reaction taking place, I assume both would be true, but not knowing exactly how much pectin I had, I opted for starting with less sugar.
A common ingredient in most recipes was an acid of some kind, either white vinegar, cider vinegar, or lemon juice. Most of the Sure Jell recipes called for around 2 Tbs, but a couple called for up to 1 1/2 cups.
So, to the extracted persimmon juice (very sweet, and high in natural sugar), I added:
3 cups sugar
6 Tbsp Lemon juice. (arbitrarily chosen amount to taste)
TJOC says cooking times vary from 8 to 30 minutes (big help) and that to test it should "sheet" on a spoon when allowed to cool slightly in the spoon and then the spoon tilted for it to run off.
I brought the mixture to a rolling boil and prepared my clean jars/lids in a boiling water bath. continued skimming the foam as it developed on top. I've never been good with the spoon method for determining sheeting, but when it started to look like jelly on the skimmer (about 15 minutes), I checked the boiling temperature. It was 217F: 5 degrees above the normal boiling point of water. I went ahead and put it into the jars to wait and see what happened.
After 24 hours, no jelly. Re-reading TJOC said it should be 8 degrees above the normal boiling point: 220-222F.
I took one jar and emptied it into my smallest saucepan and turned up the heat... rolling boil, and before I even had the thermometer ready, it had reached 230F; halfway between Jelly and Soft Ball on the candy thermometer. It had also reduced in volume by 1/2. Not having the jars ready, I turned off the heat, rinsed and dried the jar that it had already been in, poured it in, put a lid on it, and let it cool.
So far, this is actually the most satisfactory result... thicker than honey, but not really a jelly consistency.... and it does taste delish... hardly a hint of the astringency in the raw fruit.
Step 4: ReCooks #2 and #3
When all else fails, follow the directions...
This time from the pectin package: (Traditional cooked method, firmer set, cooked fruit taste)
(some recipes on this package have a note about setting: ("May take 1 week to set": grape and hot pepper jellies, or "May take 2 weeks to set:" apricot jam and orange marmalade) Hmm... nothing about persimmons here. Maybe
After the first cooking I had 7 cups of juice mixture. I used one cup in the small (almost, but not quite satisfactory) test batch.
So, starting with 6 cups of the juice mixture (previous boiling point of 217F), I followed the recipe instructions included in the pectin package.
Steps 1,2, and 9,10 apply to canning procedures.
1. Bring boiling water canner, half-full with water to a simmer.
2. Wash jars and screw bands in hot soapy water, rinse. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan...leave in the hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.
3. Prepare fruit as directed in the following charts. *NOT APPLICABLE TO PERSIMMONS
4. Measure exact amount of prepared fruit (or juice for jelly) blah blah *Nothing helpful here.
5.Measure exact amount of sugar in separate bowl. (REDUCING SUGAR OR USING SUGAR SUBSTITUTES WILL RESULT IN SET FAILURES) *THEN A PLUG FOR THE SAME-BRAND PECTIN SPECIALLY FORMULATED FOR LOW-SUGAR RECIPES
6. Stir sugar into fruit or juice in saucepan. Add 1/2 tsp butter or margarine to reduce foaming if desired.... *hmm already cooked and skimmed foam. PASS
7. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil. (a boil that doesn't stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. *okay, finally something I can work with.
8. Stir in pectin quickly. Return to a full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with a metal spoon. *done. (but remember this still had a boiling point (217F) below TJOC's and the candy thermometer's "jelly" point at 220)
9. Ladle quickly into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of tops. Screw lids on tightly. place jars in canner. (must cover jars by 1" to 2") Bring to gentle boil. Process 10 mins. Remove from canner. Place jars upright on a towel to cool completely.
10. Let stand 24 hours (or set-time indicated on recipe) Store in cool, dry, dark place: unopened for up to 1 year. Opened, store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks.
All 6 cups of the mixture were "boiled as directed" for "exactly 1 minute," then only one jar was poured and bath-processed immediately.
5 cups returned to high heat immediately, stirring constantly until the whole thing reached (only momentarily) the "jelly" stage on the thermometer at 220F. and then processed.
24 hours later....
Still no set. They're both (although recook 3 is slightly thicker and darker) about the consistency of snow cone syrup. I'm torn 3 ways....
1. leave them all out for two weeks (and miss being able to give them away for Christmas) and see if they eventually set.
2. return them all to the pot, add sugar, and cook to a slightly higher temperature to see if I can get a quicker set.
3. Leave the one jar of recook #2 and one jar of recook #3 out for a possible late-set. And return the remaining 4 cups to the pot with more sugar and a higher temperature... Even though this could produce results faster, and in time for gifting (though 2 less jars), it's going to take more complicated math than I'm prepared to do in order to replicate...
Step 5: Summative Recipes...based on Results of the Tests...
As it is, I'm out of persimmons... and my mixture has been "tweaked" and heated and cooled enough to make the results so far less than repeatable, unless you're ready to spend 3 days replicating the whole process....
I made a hot-pepper jelly once years ago, and it took "forever" to set, but darn it tasted good.
As far as a true jelly you'll just have to continue experimenting yourself, or wait until...
1. My "recook #2 or #3 sets, and I can type up the results in an easy-to-follow recipe (including how long you can expect to wait for it to set.)
2. Next year when my uncle offers me more persimmons and I can start again from scratch.
If you like a "persimmon-based honey-like spread" you should be able to follow the following directions to satisfactory results:
30 persimmons (ripened to the point of easy bruising, but not "persimmon sticky-ripe" they'll still be somewhat astringent at this stage.)
4 cups water
3 cups sugar
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Remove the stems/leaves from the fruit. Halve or quarter the persimmons and add to an 8 quart stock pot with 4 cups of water. Bring to a simmer , simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Strain the pulp through a cloth or jelly bag. Squeeze the bag to extract more of the juices. Discard the pulp and the astringent quality with it. Add to the strained juice: the sugar and lemon juice. In a non-reactive 3 quart saucepan, bring the juice mixture to a boil over medium heat and continue boiling mixture stirring occasionally and monitoring for any sign of burning until it reaches 228F on a candy thermometer. This will probably take over 20 minutes if the heat is not too high. Once the mixture starts to boil, begin preparing your washed jars in a boiling water bath. When the mixture gets close, prepare the jars for filling by letting them dry briefly on a cake cooling rack. Fill jars, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch. screw lids onto jars and process in boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Allow to cool.