A Plenitude of Persimmons

I am slightly obsessed with persimmons. They never really registered in my consciousness¬† before I moved to California. Turns out there is a native variety in Indiana where I grew up, but I didn’t notice the trees as a kid, only the ubiquitous and delicious persimmon pudding made from them. But those Midwestern natives are a different tree entirely from what I encountered when I moved to California. Here, people grow Japanese persimmon varieties which produce gorgeous orange globes in late November, hanging from otherwise bare trees in a late and exuberant showing of abundance.

Persimmons on a Tree
Persimmons on a Tree

As many of you probably know, there are two basic varieties of persimmons, astringent and non-astringent. Fuyu is the most common non-astringent variety and is delicious just eaten raw like an apple or cut up in salads. A fuyu, pomegranate seed and walnut salad with fresh greens is my definition of late fall farm-to-table delight. And then there are the astringent varieties of which Hachiya is the best known. The astringent varieties are a bit harder to consume. They have to ripen just to the point of being over-ripe to become truly sweet and lose their mouth puckering astringency. Quite frankly, by the time they are perfectly ripe, the texture of the fruit resembles, well, snot.

However, I had once sampled a Japanese treat called Hoshigaki, which is an ancient method of turning these astringent problem children of the Fall harvest into the kobe beef of dried fruit. I had to try it. The process of making hoshigaki is not for the faint of heart. In short, you peel unripe fruit, hang them delicately from a bit of the remaining stem and calyx, then massage them gently every day or so for 4-6 weeks. So very Japanese. My neighbors who have a lovely and old Hachiya persimmon were kind enough to gift me with two dozen persimmons to try my hand at making Hoshigaki. And so, I started out with a few gorgeous fruits hanging in our windows to dry.

(Jason had asked me to make curtains, but I don’t think this exactly what he had in mind.)
PersimmonsHanging

Well, when I told our neighbors how much fun I had making my first foray into Hoshigaki, they got excited too. And gave me, oh, about 200 more persimmons. Yeah, 200.

A Plenitude of Persimmons
A Plenitude of Persimmons

Two hundred persimmons; that’s a crazy amount of persimmon. So I went crazy too, and started hanging them all over the house. You have to duck to get into some rooms of our house right now, no joke. And I *still* had fruit left over. To make Hoshigaki, you really need to start with completely unripe fruit, and after a few nights of peeling and hanging, some of my gifted persimmons had started to go mushy on me.¬†¬† So in desperation, I looked for some other persimmon recipes, and stumbled upon a few for persimmon fruit leather aka fruit rollups. Genius! So, I converted a dozen or so of the riper persimmons into these little morsels, and they turned out quite well. Very tasty, and rather pretty in the morning light as well.

Persimmon Rollups
Persimmon Rollups

Here is the very simple recipe for persimmon fruit roll-ups I settled on by the third and final batch.

Spiced Persimmon Holiday Roll-ups

Ingredients

  • 4 very ripe hachiya ( or any other astringent variety) persimmons
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Blend pulp of persimmons with spices until smooth, just a minute or so.
  3. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  4. Divide spiced pulp in half and pour onto prepared baking sheets.
  5. Spread into an even layer with a spatula.
  6. Bake for 3-4 hours until mostly dry and slightly cracked around the edges.

The hoshigaki are mostly dry now, and are beginning to taste tasty! I think I need to massage them more rigorously the next time I try this particular form of food preservation. I have not gotten the promised bloom of powdered sugar on the outside either. I think it might be too dry in our house, but the fruit I hung outside just got moldy in a few days. I will need to wait another week or two for most of them to be fully dry, and since I finally have a break in my work schedule, I plan to give them a bit more attention.

PersimmonsDrying

The other persimmon fun I have been having is selecting the varieties of the trees we will plant in our orchard. This is the list of what I wanted, but alas, one of these growers is in Florida and cannot ship to California. If any friends outside of California, care to order them, plant them, and let me know what you think, that would be most awesome. The final item in the list is a Black and Blue persimmon from Korea. It looks so exotic and enticing, but I can’t have it. Drat.

Fuyu
Hachiya
Izu
Saijo
Tanenashi
Korean Persimmon
Tam-O-Pan
Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro

Not for California, alas:
Gionbo
Sheng
Matsumoto
Black and Blue Korean Persimmons (so pretty!)

 

Winter Cover Cropping

All of this earth moving we have been doing is to get ready to plant our winter cover crop. We are late in doing this, but the winter rains are late in arriving, so the fates are smiling on us in a weird sort of way.

Cover crops are essential to organic farming for a few reasons. The basic point of a cover crop is to plant seed, not for harvest, but to improve the soil. Cover crops are generally planted and then just tilled under a few months later. This process adds organic material to the soil, fixes nitrogen (an essential nutrient for plants), and prevents erosion. We had originally planned to plant a mix of vetch, legumes and oats, but when I spoke with the guy at the seed store, he highly recommended we just plant organic cayuse oats at first to crowd out competing weeds.

OrganicOats

So, right now, we have 750 pounds of cayuse oat seeds sitting in our barn. It’s a lot of seed, not particularly exciting in some ways, but it is the first thing we will actually plant on this property, which makes me do a little happy dance of joy. Before we actually plant this seed, the nicer guys with big machines will disc our property with this amazing looking machine:

discer

dics

The point of discing is to open up the soil for oxygen and water penetration and till under any existing weeds.

Next, they will rip our property with this even more impressive machine.

ripper ripping

Ripping is hopefully and probably not something we will have to do often. But right now, there is a clay pan, essentially a hard layer of impenetrable clay, sitting right under our 6-12″ of topsoil. This clay pan will make it hard for tree roots, water or nutrients to penetrate down deep into the ground unless we break it up first. So ripping is a specific farm implement and process for braking up this clay pan.

It’s funny, before we actually moved here and started getting more knowledgeable about soil workings, we were all excited to buy a tractor. And we STILL might buy a tractor. But we have quickly learned that we are surrounded by folks with Serious Machines, and it is easier and cheaper just to rent these machines and operators. It would be silly for us to acquire all of this machinery for our little acres and just use them once or twice a year. Again, I am so glad we moved to an area when agriculture has been a way of life for 100 years.

If you are interested in learning more about cover crops, I found these resources useful:

Cover Crop Basics from Wikipedia
Cornell University has a Cover Crops Micro-site
Winter Cover Crops from Purdue University

 

Topology, Topography & Big Machines!

It’s been a busy week at our farm to be. It seems that every time we need help in a specific expert kind of way, the right person just appears to help us. When we were leaving Santa Cruz, a neighbor introduced me to Art Morales, who is a local irrigation specialist. Art, in turn, introduced to Antonio who I shall now always think of as the Man with Big Machines. We originally called Antonio to help us plant our cover crop for the winter. However, this man, well, he and his crew can do it all. He walked our property and immediately suggested we rip out the arena, to return an acre or so of land to farm production and put in a ditch to open up the lower field to potential perennial production. He also offered to tear down our crappy shack and remove some intrusive trees. All for an extremely reasonable price. When I saw his quote, my response was simply, HELL YEAH. So, it’s been a week of earth moving and big machines. And for those of you who love big machines, here are some pictures to enjoy.bigmachines Excavate GoodByeArena MiniMountains