The Persimmon - A Sweet Summer Package for Winter Eating

Episode 6 February 15, 2022 00:34:30
The Persimmon - A Sweet Summer Package for Winter Eating
Fruit Love Letters
The Persimmon - A Sweet Summer Package for Winter Eating

Show Notes

"You taste like a humid August night on my tongue."

Every fruit...and every orchard has a story. Persimmon’s stories are perhaps a little more interesting than other fruits’ least in the U.S., because they’re not a hugely commercial crop here.

In this episode, Jessamine talks to farmers at two very different orchards. The first is Penryn Orchard, an orchard with a rich history, steeped in a love of the fruit. And Jessamine gets to visit a new persimmon farm closer to home, Sweet Georgia Fuyu, where she learns about the potiental of the persimmon market while tasting plenty of persimmons along the way.

Learn more about this episode of Fruit Love Letters at, on IG and Twitter at @whetstoneradio, and YouTube at /WhetstoneRadio.


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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hey everyone. I'm Jesse Sparks host of the new podcast. The one recipe from the team behind the splinted table. This pod is all about that one recipe that you lean on. The one you share with friends, the one you make, when you need a little love. And the one, you know, will work every single time. Every week. I talk with chefs and gifted cooks from all over the world about their one and the story behind it. We're here to help you build your kitchen library. One dish at a time, follow the one recipe, wherever you get your podcast. Speaker 1 00:00:29 Have you ever wondered why rotisserie chicken is so cheap or whether eating a plant based burger can really help fight climate change? Or how about what labels to look for? To know which food is the healthiest or the best for the environment. If those questions intrigue, you try the new podcast. What you're eating from food They connect the story behind your food, to what you eat every day. What you're eating helps you understand how food gets to your plate to see the full impact of the food system on animals, planet, and people from conversations with farmers and chefs, to discussions with policy experts on the barriers to sustainability food prints, new podcast covers everything from the why to the how join host Jerusha clipper director of food, every other week for new episodes and more answers to the question you have about what you're eating, listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcast or at food you're eating. Speaker 3 00:01:39 Kamoo once said in the midst of winter, I found there was within me an invincible summer. You per Simon are just that the sweet warming sunshine reserved for summer found clinging to the tree. After the leaves have fallen frost and wind, blusters making your sugars double. I label you a true optimist, but if that were the case, this attraction wouldn't be so intense. Finding simple optimism, a fools game, an unnatural fruit engineer's dream. Your perfection is built on the pools of an unpredictable calendar and some very unru light character. You are a fighter biting back to those that try to enjoy you too early. And when ripeness comes, it doesn't mean you just let go. I once fashioned a long stick with a vine loop wrapped around the end to puck you from your branches, trying to charm you with my homemade ingenuity and you still mightily resisted. Finally letting go after many attempts, a 10 foot fall garnished, not a single blemish, a seasoned lover with no time for pre-pubescent trumps no Virgin lure. You patiently wait through courtesan grumbles about frigid nights and fits over. Playing hard to get, you know, this fierceness inmate equals concentrated salinity, preferably aged as well, just what your ambrosial sweetness needs. And so here we are wrapped in blankets. I'm barely dipping you in soy sauce, drinking hot tea, and you taste like a humid August night on my tongue. Speaker 3 00:04:00 I'm Justin star. You're listening to fruit, love letters. Food for me is a way to express love. I'm a chef in Atlanta and I fold my feelings into the meals I cook for my family, my friends, even strangers. It can be hard for me to say, I love you, but you will know it when I serve you. Butternut squash ribbons in brown corn has butter, but if I peel you an apple slice you a perim, pick you a Mulberry with my stained fingers. Then we'll both know it's really serious Fruit of course have long been considered symbols of love, even aphrodisiacs ADIs on this show. I'm exploring our love of fruit and what it says about us. People on this episode, perim, Every fruit and every orchard has a story. Persimmon stories are perhaps a little more interesting than other fruits, at least in the us, because they're not a hugely commercial crop here. So something more must be driving. The people who plant these beautiful trees. In this episode, I'm going to take you to two very different orchards, both shaped by the owner's love of persimmon. The first is in California. That's where most of the us persimmon are grown. Speaker 5 00:05:37 My name is Han that's spelled like Lawrence, L a U R E N C E I'm from France. I grew up in France. So I've lived in California since 1982. Last name is Hoban Speaker 3 00:05:54 Laura's partner's name is Jeff rigger. Speaker 5 00:05:58 And it's his orchard that I, I guess, help him with. Sometimes. I wonder whether he would still be farming if I wasn't really encouraging him to, because it's so hard. It's really hard work physically. It's hard and financially it's definitely not a great reward, but you kind of fall in love with the trees. And that's what happens. You just fall in love with them and you can't leave. Speaker 3 00:06:28 <laugh> tell us a little bit about your farm. How did it start? How long has it been? Speaker 5 00:06:35 It's a very unlikely commercial orchard because you know, most commercial orchard, certainly in California are large estates planted with hundreds of acres of the same variety of fruit. This total property is four and a half acres. That includes a house and some ornamentals and the hedges, and then maybe two and a half acres, maybe three acres of actually producing fruit trees. And we have, if I'm counting this right, but 69 different varieties of fruit <laugh> on that little property. So you would never find that in mainstream agriculture, it just makes no sense. But your church is located in little town called Penan P E N R Y N in the foothills of the California Sierras. And it was gold country in the 19th century. That's where the gold rush happened. And in terms of soil, granite is the bedrock and it's decomposed granite plus lo Speaker 3 00:07:49 That means the soil is light and fluffy and a bit acidic, which the trees love. Speaker 5 00:07:57 It's also a part of California that has these old irrigation canals that are pure snow melt from the Sierras. So the orchard is irrigated, not with treated water, but with pure snow melt. And it's all gravity fed, it's really old fashioned system. And then the tradition in that part of California really goes back again to the 19th century and two Japanese immigrants to the area. There's a large Japanese community in plaster county. And when people came and as an immigrant myself, you miss your Homeland and you miss the things you grew up with and what Japanese people missed were fruits like perim and Asian pairs and the Satum mandarins that are famous in Japan. Speaker 3 00:08:56 Jeff hadn't intended to farm the property when he bought it. Speaker 5 00:09:00 Jeff did not at all have a farming background. When he bought the orchard, he was a successful builder. He and the woman he was with at the time bought this property, she found it and she thought this would be a great place to develop, build a fancy home on there, build a back, mention, sell it and make, you know, half a million dollars really quick. And so they bought it together and Jack walked in and he met the people who were selling. It were this old Japanese American couple. I don't know about the wife, but the man had been in turn during world war II. And so he was not really too keen on speaking to white people, understandably, but he handed Jeff a map of the orchard and he had hand drawn every tree with the abbreviation, for what kind of fruit it was to scale. Speaker 5 00:10:00 And he left just the farm equipment as part of the purchase. And he walked him around and he handed him this map and he said, good luck. And then he left and Jeff is he's someone of the highest integrity. And he just went, you know what? There's no way I'm going to destroy. 40 years of somebody's work and of their life. And these trees, he fell in love with the trees. And pretty much overnight went from being this builder with a very comfortable six figure income to making no money as a farmer, his girlfriend left him <laugh>. He bought her out of her, share of the orchard and said about to learn how to farm. He's a very hard working guy and a good student and very methodical. And he does have a degree in biology and planning Speaker 3 00:10:57 At the time, Lauren was the executive director of the Santa Barbara farmer's market association. She and Jeff met at a farm conference Speaker 5 00:11:07 And kind of hit it off. And he said, you've gotta come see, I've got this beautiful little orchard. I said, well, you should plant some European pairs. And how about planting some European seated table grapes? You know, things that I missed from my home. I love gardening. I love tending trees. And so we kind of stumbled into this together Speaker 3 00:11:32 Of the 69 fruit varieties in the little orchard, nine are different kinds of persimmon. Speaker 5 00:11:39 And that's again, very unusual. All our persimmon have seeds. Sometimes when you buy persimmon in the supermarket, typically they will not have seeds. So it's unusual thing about perim is that the flower will turn into a fruit, whether it was pollinated or not. So if you take an apple blossom and it does not get pollinated, you will not get an apple. Speaker 3 00:12:07 Think about it. All apples have seeds. All peaches have pets. Speaker 5 00:12:13 Perim will just make a fruit, even if the flower was not pollinated. And so most commercial orchards try to keep their persimmon trees from being pollinated. They don't want seeds. They want seedless fruit, but because we have nine different kinds of persimmon and we welcome the pollination, we want the pollination. We want the seeds because we find that the fruit tastes a lot sweeter and has a different layer of complexity and flavor. When it has been pollinated Speaker 3 00:12:52 As Jeff and Lawrence tended to the trees, they got to know them. Speaker 5 00:12:57 So persimmon are pretty mysterious. There's not been a lot of study of the different types of persimmon and different varieties because they're not a major crop in the United States. The way they see apples would be right. There's not been a ton of funding for studies. There's been none, actually <laugh> so you have to watch the trees and try to guess what they want. So yes, all trees are sensitive to weather. They seem to really like the climate where we are. So they, they like the summer heat. They like the rainy cold winter. They don't like a lot of severe pruning. You have to be very selective in how, and when you Pune them, you also have to thin the fruit in the spring, Speaker 3 00:13:54 In the summer, the fruit can get sunburn. Speaker 5 00:13:57 So if they're on the top of the tree and the sun is hitting them directly, they'll get burned just like you and me. They want to be watered deeply, but not too often. Speaker 3 00:14:10 The persimmon sometimes surprise NCE. Speaker 5 00:14:14 All of a sudden you have a tree that was all one kind of fruit. And then one year you see a branch show up and has a slightly different looking kind of fruit on it. And you go, huh? What happened there? You know, everybody's having sex and orchard. <laugh>, it's just the way it goes. You can't control it. And we don't want to control it. We actually think that the fact that we have all these different types of persimmon within close proximity to each other is why the persimmon from this orchard taste different from the foods you can get in your average store. There's just, I don't know how to describe it, but it's like brown sugar to white sugar, right? There's a complexity because you have the molasses and the micronutrients are left hand that have been removed in white sugar. Speaker 3 00:15:13 The flavor of their fruit is so special that Lauren and Jeff have tried to maintain the orchards inexplicable balance unless they mess up some fine detail that makes it all tick. Speaker 5 00:15:25 There's one variety of persimmon. That's on orchard called a Tochi that nobody wants to eat, but we don't wanna take it out because who knows, maybe it's the magic ingredient that makes all the other persimmon taste so good. You know, even the birds don't wanna eat that fruit until there's nothing left, nothing else left hanging on the trees, it'll be late January and everything else is gone. And the, to she is still on the trees, the birds on there, and they're talking to each other going, this fruit really sucks, but that's all there is. So we'll eat it. It's so bitter. Even when it's dead soft, it never tastes good, but there must be a reason why George planted it. And he planted several of them and we're not gonna chance it and take them out cuz there's a mystery to it. Speaker 3 00:16:18 Jeff and Lawrence discovered another surprise about the orchard. It was planted with these very specific persimmons called hi persimmon that are used to make Hoshi GKI Speaker 5 00:16:31 That the Japanese hand massaged hachi persimmon. And that was something I had never heard of that. Jeff discovered through OTO, orchard, a property in the area that is still in the Japanese American family that has been farming it for generations. Speaker 3 00:16:53 The hi is about the size of a large apple kind of heart shaped with a pointy bottom. Speaker 5 00:17:00 So you start out with a food that weighs close to a pound and you peel it and then you hang it by its little stem, okay? And as air flows over it and sunlight during the day and the warmth of the day, and then the cool of the night, the food begins to dehydrate. You want 80% of the moisture. You start out with to evaporate over time. Now, if you just hang it and just let it hang and don't touch it for a month, what you're going to end up with is something that's leathery on the outside and kind of goy on the inside, right? Speaker 3 00:17:49 Instead you want something that's evenly tender and moist Speaker 5 00:17:54 With this concentrated persimmon flavor. That is really hard to describe a little bit like gingerbread kind of flavor. And what happens is the sugar that is present in the fruit. So the fruit toes comes to the surface over time and it blooms and creates this kind of dusting almost looks like powdered sugar, but it's entirely the natural sugars of the fruit that come to the surface. Once the fruit has come to the point where you're happy with the drying level, then you package them and you keep them from dehydrating further, that fructose layer will keep thickening over time. So it's almost like aging, a wine Speaker 3 00:18:39 In order to achieve that tender even texture, you have to massage the fruit. So Speaker 5 00:18:49 As they're hanging, you take both your hands and you kind of give it a gentle massage. It's a very sensual process. They kind of look like these big, beautiful boobs, right? And then over time, <laugh> they wrinkle and they turn dark and then you're massaging them. And then they look like kind of something else altogether. We try to do it daily. And it doesn't take a lot of time per fruit, just a few seconds per fruit. But if you've got 3000 pieces of fruit hanging, <laugh> multiplied by 10 seconds, it takes hours, right? It takes weeks. You have to have patience. So if you've never made Hoshi GKI and you wanna try it at home, it's best to try it with fruit that are not too large because the larger, the fruit, the more challenging it's going to be, the longer it's going to take is the opposite of an industrial process, where if you're doing something on an industrial scale, the more you're making, the easier it gets and the cheaper per piece it becomes where the true artisanal process, there's no shortcut. There's no way to make it easier. The more you scale it up, the harder it becomes <laugh> so that's that's for she Goki, Speaker 3 00:20:10 It just sounds like something that requires so much patience and love. Speaker 5 00:20:16 So it's offered traditionally at the new year, at the holidays in Japanese families, as a gift, meaning long life and good fortune and all things sweet. You know, it's a very symbolic gift. David carp. He's really interesting guy. He is a pulmonologist and fruit expert, total fruit nerd <laugh> he told us that the fructose on the surface of the Hoshi GKI would be saved in little boxes and given to newly weds on their wedding day as an aphrodisiac. Speaker 3 00:20:56 Oh my goodness. That is wonderful. Speaker 5 00:20:59 And if you give Hoshi GKI to Japanese people, it's something that's so traditional and that has become kind of rare, even in Japan, that it's really meaningful. It's a beautiful gift. There are very few sources for real Hoshi GKI in the United States. I think OTO, orchards is one that's tohu who, um, initially showed just the steps to make it. And there's Jeff and myself who are carrying on the tradition, maybe a few others, but very few, Speaker 3 00:21:40 I can't stop thinking about this fruit that is so loved and massaged and taken care of. And then you can eat it years later and still Speaker 5 00:21:52 Yes, and I love it at breakfast with a latte. So it's not used as an ingredient in other foods. Sometimes you say, well, what'd you put it in? No, no, you would serve it by itself. And you can share it with family or friends, people you loved, or just sometimes I'll take one on a height as a fabulous street. It's got this incredible tender sweetness and this very, I don't know, it's subtle but complex. It's an experience. People try all kinds of shortcuts. You can't blame them because once you've done it, the old fashioned way with the daily massage, it's you go, am I crazy to be doing this? It's really your label's love. Speaker 3 00:22:42 Did George Okey who planted this orchard? Did he ever come back and see what you and Jeff did with it? Speaker 5 00:22:49 George passed away. George never came back, but Mickey, his wife did and she came and she approved to say, they looked good. Speaker 3 00:23:00 And George Oak's map Speaker 5 00:23:03 George's map got framed and hung in the kitchen. And then as we planted new trees, Jess has made his own map. So starting with George's map and adding the trees and the other things we planted, one of the things that Jeff was able to accomplish is he got the irrigation system to work. George was never able to get that irrigation system to work as, so he was dragging hoses all over the orchard all the time. And the, the trees were actually not as big and healthy as they are. Now. The ground looked a lot drier than it is now. So things are, they're looking good. Speaker 3 00:23:50 I ordered a box of persimmon from this orchard, which is called Rin orchard specialties. And they were like, no other persimmon I'd eaten when split open, they had seeds just like native persimmon, but the fruit was much larger and still delicious to eat firm. The taste was sweet. Yes, but the sweetness of campfire molasses with a hint of tart raspberry, complex and delicious, I was so sad about not being able to actually visit Jeff and LA's little orchard that I decided to see if there was a closer persimmon farm to where I live in Atlanta. And even though most persimmons come from California, I found one it's owned by Tom wort and Laura pots wort. Speaker 7 00:24:44 Hello. My name is Laura pots wort, and I love perim. And we're sitting here at our farm in Glenville, Georgia. Right now we're at the height of our season. Speaker 3 00:24:55 It's November when I visit days are cooling and certainly the heat I associate with other fruit harvests is gone, but these persimmons are beautifully ripe. Orange Globes hanging like Chinese lanterns on leafless trees, unbothered by dropping temperatures. These trees aren't large, either most, not much taller than me, but there is so much fruit. It's a wonder the branches can hold up. The dozens of persimmons. Each one holds. Speaker 7 00:25:28 This is really probably one of the busiest times. So it's exciting to have you out here because the fruit is still on the trees. And it's just this energy of picking, packing, hauling perim. Speaker 3 00:25:40 This is a relatively new perim operation, Tom and Laura started it in 2015 though. They had had some previous experience with persimmon out west. Speaker 7 00:25:52 We planted six acres of persimmon out in California in 2009, 2010. We have friends out there who grow persimmon. We know a guy who has a persimmon packing house in California. 90% of the persimmon grown in this country are grown in California. They grow beautifully in zone seven through 11, which is basically the south, right? But 90% are grown in California, but they grow beautifully in the south. Speaker 3 00:26:21 So Tom and Laura decided to try it. They were living in Savannah when they started looking for a farm to buy. They wanted to be close to the city, but not too close. Speaker 8 00:26:33 So we started with a small circle and a bigger circle and a bigger circle. And then we ended up basically here. What you saw, I think is the more you looked at all this land is that there were just spotty areas of better soil and, and much of that land between here and there. It was just newer land, you know, than this was probably a little older. When you get out to this area here, there was like large sections of what they call TIF de TIF lo, which is like one of the best soils that you can get in Georgia. And a lot of onions, the VI onions and stuff are growing here. So that's how we ended up here. And the other reason it's turned out to be nice is that, although we were trying to stay close to Savannah, when you get out this far, at least you're far enough away that you're not in Savannah. This is not a bedroom community for Savannah. You know, it's its own community. So they have their own organizations, their own groups, you know, they have their own stores. Like you felt like you were part of a community, not just a stranger. Speaker 3 00:27:38 The farm is 175 acres. Speaker 8 00:27:42 So we found this ranch, it's 175 acres and it borders right up against forested land all the way to the Altamaha river. So there's a whole natural element to this too, because there's lots of deer and hogs and raccoons and all sorts of stuff. Things that long since left California, you know, because of the development and stuff like that. So there's a natural quality about all this. There's about 90 acres here, that's plantable and there's ample amount of water available. It's good soil. We're planting a little at a time in growing fruit. We thought, what if this really did work? What would we do? Or maybe we'd do this and we'd do something else. So that's kind of what this is. We're kind of growing into it every year. You know, a little bit Speaker 3 00:28:34 So far, they've planted about 25 acres of persimmon. There's actually a native persimmon. The American persimmon that grows in this region, its fruit are just over an inch, ancient diameter and sticky suite, but that's not what they're growing. They chose some more familiar Asian varieties for their orchard. There's more humidity in Georgia than California. But Tom says so far, the trees are thriving. Speaker 8 00:29:03 Well, they don't grow as big here. The trees that don't grow as large and they don't grow as fast here, but they set a really good crop. And I think they have better flavor here in this kind of soil, cuz there's really Sandy. There's quite a bit of sand in this soil. And for some like that, they like the sand. So they establish very well here. Did they just watch the crop? We don't spray with pesticides. We haven't had to do any of that with them. So, you know, it's a natural product too. Speaker 3 00:29:35 I don't think of persimmon as a Southern fruit. Like I've met plenty of people that have grown up in Georgia that have never had a persimmon or know what to do with it. How do you deal with that at market? How do you present and sell your persimmons? Speaker 7 00:29:50 So I've sold at the markets for seven years now. And one of the reasons we're there is to educate people about the fruit, let them ask questions, let them try it. And I hear that often at the market, people don't know the fruit. They'll say, you know, we see it in the grocery store and we don't know what it is and we don't know what to do with it. So we're not gonna buy it. Speaker 3 00:30:11 But Laura walks people through how to eat it and use it. Unless people try the fruit. Speaker 7 00:30:17 Whenever we have people taste, test the fruit at the farmer's market, everyone tries to describe the tastes. Some of the best descriptions people have come up with are it's a cross between a cantaloupe and a mango. Another nice description I've heard about it is that it has a honey sweetness. They don't have a strong flavor, like a strawberry, it's kind of a mild flavor that goes really well with a lot of different spices or foods. And then the third description I've heard that I think is pretty good is as it gets riper and softer, it's more like a peach. So those are some descriptions I've heard time and again, from people as they've tasted the fruit for the first time, Speaker 3 00:31:00 Pursuance are so nice too, because it's a late season fruit. It's kind of the fruit that comes at the end when all the other fruits are done. Are you guys on that same season schedule here? Speaker 8 00:31:10 Yeah, we think that's such a wonderful thing about it is that it comes just at the right time when the stores really need something in that produce section. Cuz there really isn't very much, you know, you're coming on Thanksgiving and Christmas and of course you can make cakes and pies with it, all that stuff. And you can put it out on your counter. It looks good. It's fall colors. We think that the potential for it is really very broad. Speaker 3 00:31:37 Laura says for her growing perim is coming full circle in a way. Speaker 7 00:31:43 So it's interesting because whenever I was growing up, we would go on these family fishing trips, every fall I'm originally from Missouri. And my mom has always been a big canner and would always be baking things or cooking things. And so she knew where this perim tree was a wild perim tree was near where we camped for our fishing trip. And so every fall she troop us all out to this field. I have two sisters, three girls in our family. She troop us all out to this wild perim tree in this cow field and to see of the perim, the wild persimmon were ripe and ready to eat. So if they were then we'd climb up in the trees, we were all tree climbers. We'd climb up in the trees and help my mom pick those wild persimmon. And then she would either make jams or persimmon bread or cookies with them. And so now fast forward, she has actually gone to the farmer's markets with me to help me sell the perim here in Savannah, a different kind of perim. But nevertheless, Speaker 3 00:32:40 We load in the golf cart and drive out to the persimmon orchard. Again, the amount of fruit, these little trees hold onto is astounding. I cannot wait to bite into one. Every single persimmon looks perfect. All right. More clipping Laura and Tom, let me go to town, picking fruit. I clip and collect fruit in a bucket. When I get home, I'm going to eat these persimmons with my morning yogurt and on salads and maybe make some Sesame perim jam if any air left, but really the best way to eat fruit is right off the tree. So I pluck a persimmon. Okay. I'm gonna try this very soft ripe, extremely ripe one that wouldn't make it to the store. Definitely. It would turn into mush before it got there. It is literally putting <laugh> inside. Yep. So sweet. Speaker 7 00:33:50 Some people will let them get very soft and ripe like that. Then they'll cut off the top and eat it with Speaker 3 00:33:55 A spoon. Yeah, you absolutely could. I could see putting it in the fridge. It being nice and cold and eating it with a spoon. It really is putting, bury me in Aon. I am in my happy place. So good. Thanks to Laura pods, wort and Tom wort for letting me visit their farm. Thanks also to Laura's ho You can subscribe to fruit love letters anywhere you get your podcasts and we'll be back next week. With more love letters to fruit, Fruit love letters is part of what stone radio collective. Thank you to the fruit love letters, team producer arena, Joof audio editor, Bethany sands researcher, Carolyn Crosby and intern indigo Clarkson. I'd also like to thank what stone founder, Steven Satterfield Westone radio collective executive producer, Celine Glaser sound engineer, max cold check associate producer, Quintin, Lebo and sound intern Simon lavender I'm Justin star. Thanks for listening to fruit love letters. You can learn more about this [email protected] at Instagram and Twitter at Wetstone radio and subscribe to our YouTube channel Westone radio collective for more podcast, video content, you can learn more about all things [email protected]

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