Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sharing Traditions

Hoshigaki drying in Courtney's kitchen.
Our friend and fellow farmer Courtney McDonald lives in the midst of an old persimmon orchard near Ophir.  Courtney is also a professional chef and the site manager of the Old Town Auburn Farmers' Market.  Like our family, Courtney and her partner Eric value the farming traditions that make our part of Placer County so rich.  Being blessed with and abundance of "free" persimmons, Courtney has taken it upon herself to learn from the older Japanese farmers who planted many of the persimmon trees that are so common in our part of the county.

Oak Hill Ranch in Auburn, which we've leased for going on 5 years now, has more than 100 old persimmon trees.  In past years, we've anxiously awaited the time when the hachiya persimmons soften on the tree - only then are they ready to eat.  I've tried them while they were still firm and have found them so astringent that my mouth feels dry for hours after taking a small bite.  Usually the birds can tell they moment they're ripe - it's a race to try to pick them before the starlings, mocking birds and jays get them.
Sometimes persimmons come in odd shapes!

The Japanese farmers in our area have developed several methods for dealing with this problem.  The most well-known method - hoshigaki - involves peeling the hard hachiya persimmons and hanging them to dry.  These peeled persimmons are massaged daily, and eventually the natural sugars in the fruit concentrate.  When they are finished, they taste almost like dates.  They're wonderful.  Last year, Courtney invited us to help peel a batch that she then dried in her kitchen.

A lesser known method - amagaki - involves dipping the petiole and stem of the persimmon briefly in 100 proof vodka and then sealing the fruit in an airtight container for 10-14 days.  The alcohol cures and ripens the fruit.  While the persimmon stays somewhat firm on the outside, it ripens and softens to a mango-like texture on the inside.

All this past summer, Courtney bugged Aki, a retired Japanese farmer, to teach her how to make amagaki.  This fall, he finally told her how to do it.  Courtney shared the method (and some of her first batch with us).  Tonight, Emma and I sampled our first attempt.
Sliced amagaki - yum!

They were incredible!  I think I like them better than hoshigaki!  Being lazier than Courtney, I think I prefer the method, too - dip the persimmons in vodka, seal them up and forget about them for 10 days (and then drink the left over vodka).
Emma sampling our first batch.

Thanks to Aki for teaching Courtney how to make amagaki, and thanks to Courtney for sharing it with us!


  1. Just to clarify the process for making amagaki - the stem and petiole (leaf at the top) of the persimmon are dipped into the vodka and then removed. The persimmons are sealed in a ziplock bag for 10-14 days. There's absolutely no alcohol taste to them - I think the alcohol acts as a ripening agent. Easy to make and wonderful to eat!