Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Sweet Seasons /October 2007 - Persimmon -


Yes, I replaced the photo. The previous one did show more wagashi on a tray, but just one persimmon in this shot is certainly more impressive, I think.

Persimmon is a special fruit for wagashi confectioners. Traditionally, people have dried astringent persimmons to make hoshigaki (dried persimmon). You may think that drying was a desperate effort to somehow make use of the otherwise-useless astringent fruit, but that is not the case. The astringent variety was (and still is) preferred for making hoshigaki because it turns out to be sweeter when dried. I've read that astringent persimmons have a higher sugar content than sweet persimmons (such as fuyu), believe it or not.

It is said that a dried persimmon is three to four times sweeter than a fresh persimmon. In olden days when sugar was valuable and hard to get, the sweet dried fruit must have been a beloved dessert. This is a good reason to believe that it was served with tea, and perhaps that is why hoshigaki is often said to be the origin of wagashi: sweets (almost always) served with green tea. But that is not the only reason why the persimmon is a special fruit.

There is a principle widely shared by confectioners: "Wagashi shouldn't be sweeter than hoshigaki." Overly sweet wagashi is not considered decent or elegant; it makes you think "Oh, this is too much!" To avoid that, confectioners seem to have chosen the somewhat mild sweetness of dried persimmon as a guideline. Think about that; Japanese confectioners have passed down this guideline for years-- could be hundreds of years. To me, the hoshigaki guideline sounds more... how shall I say... naturalistic? and I like it. It doesn't sound as dry as, "The sugar content of wagashi should be less than XX%. "

* Wagashi by Nishigawaya



Anonymous said...

ooohh. that really looks good!! reminds me of the persimmons I bought last week that still feel hard. *poke*

obachan said...

Sounds like it's persimmon season over there, too? Enjoy! :D

Anonymous said...

A friend in Japan sent me a package of shiozakura which I used in making wagashi to serve in my tearoom (in California). Now I would like to make my own salted cherry blossoms with buds from the cherry tree in my yard that is just beginning to bloom. Do you have any suggestions on how to do this?
Thank you for your help,

obachan said...

Hi Meiya,

Thank you so much for asking me this question, because if you had not asked, I wouldn't have known forever that shiozakura can be made at home. Yes, you can make it at home, and let me summarize what I read on several Japanese websites.

Wash the cherry blossom buds, drain and dry on paper towel. Cover the bottom of a plastic container with salt, then lay cherry buds on them, sprinkle salt, then cherry buds, salt, buds…continue alternately until cherry buds are used up. The total amount of salt should be 20% of the weight of the cherry buds (i.e., if 50 g of cherry buds, use 10 g of salt). Put a weight on it and leave for 2 days. Gently squeeze the buds and save the juice. Put the buds in a container, add about 1 Tbsp. of the juice and some apple vinegar (or regular vinegar) until the liquid almost covers the surface. Put a weight on again and leave for 5 days in a cool and dark place. Squeeze the buds gently and dry on paper towel in the shade for 2 days. Toss with 1 teasp. (or more, if you used a lot of cherry buds) of salt and keep in a jar.

Now I'm sooooooooooo tempted to give it a try myself. But alas! I don't have my own cherry tree. There are so many cherry trees around here, but they are all in public places or someone's yard. I could pick the flower petals fell on the ground, but I'm not supposed to pick the buds with stems from the trees. (I could get arrested if I would give it a try at Kochi castle.) :P