Massaging the Persimmons - Rare Hoshigaki Made with TLC in Placer County


 

Placer County, California–If you think that persimmons are an odd fruit that don’t get much use, then you are unfamiliar with them as revered delicacies when dried, massaged by hand, and made into hoshigaki. While eating the fruits of hoshigaki labor is a Japanese tradition, only a “handful” of farms in Placer County grow persimmons and make the dried snack that is given as gifts. One farm we visited in the California Gold Rush hills outside of Roseville in the quaint town of Penryn is owned and operated by commercial grower who has revived the lost art of hoshigaki in the most unsuspecting place.

 

Japanese Massaged Dried Persimmon, Hoshigaki, is a persimmon peeled and dried whole over a period of several weeks.  As the fruit begins to dry, it must be delicately hand-massaged so that the sugars contained in the fruit form a delicate surface with a dusting that looks like frost. Unlike sliced dried fruit, which tend to be brittle and leathery, hoshigaki’s succulence and concentrated persimmon flavor is heavenly to those who have developed a taste for this specialty food that is labor intensive to produce, nearly disappearing because of the cost.  The hoshi gaki method is traditional to Japan, and came to America with Japanese American farmers.

 

Having visited the farm of Jeff Rieger, Penryn Orchard Specialties, we found an amazing Tsurunoko or chocolate persimmon he grows and sells at the Santa Monica farmers market. Named for its properties that include release of small amounts of alcohol from the seeds, this chemical reaction causes the tannins in the flesh to turn brown, thus creating a rich flavor and color reminding some of the characteristics of chocolate. It reminds us of the process of the chocolate garlic delicacy of the orient served as a dessert in fine restaurants.

It is really sweet when it has previously been pollinated and seeds are produced. But if not, the product can be tangy and tart, and can ruin sales of this specialty crop if not produced with extreme care. Jeff Rieger, who also has owned a construction company, is one of those can-do people who likes a challenge. When he took interest nearly a decade ago in some farm land and orchards of a retired Japanese American, he kept the variety of orchards and crops, and also learned the art of yoshigaki. Kind of renegade, he is one of only several people willing to invest their time in this lost art. He's stuck with it through the seasons and eventually reached a goal of having enough produce to sell at the well-known Wednesday market in Santa Monica. Chefs love his unique and rare product and go out of their way to get it.
 

To buy this wonderful product, you have to place an order or get on list, as the crop is limited. We visited the farm of  Jeffrey Rieger, Penryn Orchard Specialties, Penryn, CA, and can recommend his hoshigaki.  Call: (916) 769-5462.  penrynorchardspecialties.com

To be eaten fresh, the Hachiya persimmon must be completely soft, otherwise it is unbearably astringent. For drying, however, the fruits are perfect when they are still firm like apples, which generally happens 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. The process involves peeling the persimmon, and then hanging the fruit, several on a string or over a pole. After hanging the fruit for 3 to 7 days, the persimmon will form a skin that needs to be massaged in order to break up the hard inner pulp. The massage process goes on every 3 to 5 days for three to five weeks. By the end of this lengthy process, the sugars will come to the surface of the fruits, leaving a white bloom. The hoshi gaki are fully done when the pulp sets and you can no longer roll it.

Thanks in great part to the efforts of Joanne Neft, the Placer County Agricultural Marketing Director, 916-663-9126 .slowfoodusa.org/ helps promote the locally grown and slow food movement in Placer County. Hoshigaki can be found at farmers markets from November through the Holiday season in California. The product remains scarce and hard to find beyond the area of immediate production, but one Placer County farmer, Jeff Rieger, is scheduled to begin selling hoshigaki at the Santa Monica Farmers Market this fall.


Otow Orchard
Tosh Kuratomi
Granite Bay, CA
916-791-1656
otoworchard.com/hoshigaki.html
*Will ship long distance

Penryn Orchard Specialties
Jeffrey Rieger
Penryn, CA
916-769-5462
penrynorchardspecialties.com/
*Will ship long distance

Brenner Ranch
Jim and Karen Brenner
Newcastle, CA
916-663-4578
*Will ship long distance

placertourism.com