Local Lifestyle

Saturday, Dec 22 2012 03:00 PM

HERB BENHAM: Paucity of patience for perplexing persimmons

By The Bakersfield Californian

I am drying persimmons in my garage. Each morning, I check the progress of the 24 persimmons hanging from green string on an old railing. It may be the most satisfying thing I've ever done.

Persimmons are a comeback fruit. Previously when you saw your neighbor carrying a grocery bag of persimmons to your front door, you dove under the covers, put your pillow over your head and sang loudly until he moved to the next house.

Sure, there were persimmon cookies, persimmon bread and persimmon pudding -- which only three people in the world knew how to make -- but people looked at persimmons and were puzzled by them.

Then a few months ago our friends Bart and Napier brought several dark brown, wrinkly, dried persimmons to a picnic we had before a Garrison Keillor show at the Hollywood Bowl.

I like dried fruit -- apricots, raisins, pineapple, cherries, figs; however, dried fruit is less dessert than a snack you might enjoy while traveling in a car between here and San Francisco.

I was wrong. These dried persimmons -- with drying twigs still attached -- were thinly sliced and made me think that I was going to have to tell Mr. Chocolate to move on over.

I toured Bart's drying facility -- which turned out to be his garage -- in order to steep myself in the technique, called hoshigaki.

"First you have to skin the persimmons, leaving a small cap at the bottom in order to catch the sugar," Bart said.

The persimmons had to be hard. The paring knife sharp. The garage cool.

The garage cool? Mine was built in 1894. Insulation? There was more air than wood.

How difficult could this be? I picked up 24 persimmons from my neighbor Gene, skinned them, left a cap at the bottom and then, lacking the 4-inch twig that attached the persimmon to the tree, I ran a bamboo skewer through the top of the persimmon so it could hang from the railing with the green string.

It was beautiful and qualified as garage art. I conducted tours for friends and family, extolling the virtues of dried persimmons and my new-found craft.

The only worry I had, if you could call it that, was that a rat might be drawn to the ever-sweeting persimmons. However, unless it was a circus rat that had been trained on a rat-sized trapeze, there would be no way for even the most agile rodent to swing teeth first into the 24 persimmons.

Twenty-four persimmons ready to eat three months from now. We'd have dessert for the rest of the year and maybe I could even sell some for $18 per pound at the farmers market.

I was becoming a leading authority. I learned that after the fruit hung for three to seven days, "the persimmon formed a skin that had to be massaged in order to break up the hard inner pulp. The sugars come to the surface of the fruits, leaving a white bloom."

I had been advised to massage my persimmons. Was that legal? Certainly if you love your persimmons, a massage falls within the bounds of decency.

A couple days ago, I checked on the persimmons. Something was wrong. Four of the strings were empty, the persimmons splattered on the ground below. The soft fruit had been battling gravity, and gravity had won.

I was reduced to 20 persimmons; still a healthy number, but not quite the cushion I had banked on.

I checked on the persimmons the following day. There were two more empty strings with two more persimmons collapsed on the cement like Humpty Dumpty. Eighteen left. The chances for an appearance at the farmers market appeared bleak.

We had friends over for dinner that night and after they left, I inspected the persimmons. Eighteen persimmons had become 16, and I had three more on the critical list looking like orange marshmallows that had spent too much time in the fire.

I looped several pieces of green string under the remaining persimmons in an effort to add support. Although the 16 persimmons made it through the night, they were clearly not to be trusted. I might have to sleep in the garage the rest of the winter, next to the dogs and under the persimmons.

If massage would help, I would give them one. However, in their present state, and in mine, which borders on desperation, I am not sure that ardor will suffice.

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