Puckery, Perfect, or Preserved: Exploring Persimmons Fresh & Dried – MS/HS Lesson (PDF Download)

Posted on Categories Blog, Cooking & Preservation, Home, Plant Profiles, Plants, RecipesTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
How-to Hoshigaki guide available through POP’s resource and curriculum pages. Requires peeling, patience, and frequent massages!

It is no wonder that persimmon’s Latin genus name “Diospyros” translates as “food of the gods” for the fruit’s divine, sweet flavor. The fall-ripening fruit of persimmon trees are rich and jammy and its honeyed flavor can be exquisitely sweet on the palette when given the proper ripening time on or off the tree — and especially after a quick flash of frost. But variety or hasty harvester beware, for unripe persimmon fruit is also known for its astringency, inciting an unpleasant pucker on the palette.  This sensation is due the presence of tannins — a class of plant-protective phenolic compounds appearing in foods like tea, rhubarb, coffee, and chocolate — that bind to the proteins in saliva creating a tense, drying mouthfeel.  For this reason, reviews of the fruit from the unaware can be somewhat mixed! 

Still, persimmons are one of POP’s favorite fruits to plant in our community orchards — especially school orchards — due to their hardiness, resilience against pest & disease (of which there are very few!), and their ability to provide a late-fall harvest, which is a plus once the apple season wraps up and the summer’s berries and stone fruits are but a mere, sunny memory.  Persimmons rate as one of the easiest to grow fruit in our climate and when properly harvested, they are truly delicious! 

(Read more about Asian persimmons and the native American persimmon here).  

Richard Allen Preparatory sixth-graders watch footage of persimmon processing in Japan. Video linked in the downloadable lesson plan.

So — who better to test the ‘simmons with than two groups of incredibly talented, sometimes-adventurous, sometimes-hesitant Richard Allen Preparatory Charter School middle-schoolers, who’ve been working hard all year-long in designing and expanding their school garden, orchard, and palettes along with Jenny Dunker of Greener Partners?

Greener Partners’ Jenny Dunker and POP’s Education Director Alyssa Schimmel scope the fruit set on the school’s persimmon tree during the early fall.

We piloted this persimmon lesson (PDF download here) with 6th and 8th graders at the school, where they have a huge, healthy ‘Nikita’s Gift’ persimmon tree that was loaded with fruit in the summer. Most of the fruit had been harvested prior to our lesson (hopefully by community members — not squirrels!) but we called in backup, picking up flats of Asian persimmons for $6-8 from an Asian grocery store, and harvesting the native American persimmon from the grounds of the Woodlands that were shaken down from the trees’ tall branches during a community gleaning event.

Students begin the process by delicately peeling the persimmons’ outer skin.

We began with a taste test of the fruit and a brainstorm of what we might make with it to help extend the harvest, then read about the trees’ growth, care, and nutritional facts on this POP tree PDF info-sheet here, before watching two videos on caring for persimmons and learning to cure them using the Japanese traditional stringing-and-massaging mode of drying called hoshigaki (PDF how-to handout here).

Hoshigaki is a cultural delicacy in Japan, where it is frequently used to make the astringent variety of persimmons, Hachiya, more palatable. After peeling the outer skin and stringing them by the stem to hang in the sun with proper airflow and regular massages every 4-5 days to encourage the moisture and sugar to the surface to bloom (it’s often called the kobe beef of dried fruit!), the fresh, still-firm fruit is transformed in a few weeks into an intensely-flavored, still-tender dried delight that is sugar-blushed, rolled, and stored for up to a month in the fridge, or two months in the freezer.

Repair the World’s Megan Brookens and Jenny Dunker string the fruit to clothing hangers to dry.

Unfortunately, the Hachiya variety wasn’t available at the market — the non-astringent Fuyus being preferred for fresh eating — so we tried with what we had and can report back on this blog and by our social media channels with the results! Stay tuned! Because the Hachiya variety has more protective tannins, it’s said they are ideal for this method of drying, whereas the Fuyus which are higher in sugar can draw bugs and possibly develop mold, if too moist. In that case, the fruit after peeling can be flash-boiled for 10 seconds or sprayed with alcohol that can help sanitize the surface.

NOTE: Discard any hoshigaki that form greenish mold due to excessive moisture.  DO NOT CONSUME!  Again, the white bloom that forms naturally through this process is just crystallized sugars and safe to eat.

So how did the persimmons fare among Richard Allen’s reviewers? The majority of students really enjoyed them-– noting that the tomato-like fruit had buttery, spicy, squashy, and honey-flavors they thought might be delicious in cereal bars, fruit leathers, or breakfast cereal.

Two weeks later, the persimmon fruits are beginning to collapse and dry. Here, the students massage the fruit to break up the still-soft internal fruit flesh.

Educators can consider a range of follow-up activities to complement the lesson including in-class experiments on techniques for improving the sweetness of fruit by adjusting harvest time, refrigerating or freezing; exploring methods of reducing astringency by soaking, souring, etc; other culinary and recipe experiments like making persimmon breads or butters; and history extensions, conducting research on hoshigaki and other persimmon-based traditional foodways from around the world.

Jenny Dunker’s Feedback on the Lesson: “The persimmon lesson was excellent for my 6th and 8th grade students. They were drawn in to the subject through a thoughtful exploration of flavor and texture, making them eager to learn more about these fascinating trees. POP educators kept students engaged through a combination of hands on projects and multimedia. Students were excited to explore the development of the trees and fruit, propagation methods, and cultural practices surrounding the persimmon, even participating in a fruit preservation experiment! This lesson engages learners through a discovery-based exploration, broadening their tastes and providing a deeper appreciation for the trees right outside their school.”

This POP Blog Post and Curriculum Materials were written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel with assistance from Repair the World fellow Megan Brookens.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards.org/donate

2017 School Orchard Update & Linked PDF Lesson ‘Tea Time’

Posted on Categories Blog, Home, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , ,
Hartranft students harvest sour cherries from the school’s backyard orchard!

2017 was the kickoff year for POP’s new School Orchard Program. In collaboration with POP’s 12 school orchard partners from around the city, we began developing a framework and database of materials to activate school orchards as centers of learning and exploration for students from kindergarten to college.

Beginning in the early winter while the fruit trees were still dormant, we met with partner teachers, parents, grandparents, community members, and students to hear and discuss what each visioned for their school orchard and learn how POP could support sites through educational programming.

The responses were rich and varied. Along with the topics of hands-on orchard care, ecology, sustainability, nutrition, cooking, botany, mycology, art, and entrepreneurship, school partners were most excited about the the core of the work: teaching students to grow — food, life-skills, and connections, that could nourish community in deep and tangible ways. 

Sunny and Jonathan at Sayre HS tended to the peach tree – thinning early set fruit & plucking away peach leaf curl!

POP’s 2017 pilot program began with Sayre High School, Overbrook School for the Blind, and Tilden Middle School with ongoing lessons in the field and classroom — reflective of the students’ and teachers’ interests. Lessons were also offered at UPenn Netter Center partner Lea Elementary, Hartranft Middle School, Penn Alexander Elementary, South Philly High School, Cramp Elementary, Greenfield Elementary, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Park.    

Students were eager to dive in! As the seasons progressed, students at these sites planted fruit trees and shrubs, thinned fruit, trained fruit tree branches, harvested and pruned blackberries and brambles, made fermented plant fertilizers, identified local weeds and herbs as food and medicine, planted perennials to support threatened insect pollinators, inoculated mushrooms, and more!

A hearty harvest! Students at Overbrook School for the Blind learned about brambling fruit like blackberries, raspberries, and golden raspberries

Across all sites, POP was able to teach 250 students through 44 school visits, with 14 formal lessons delivered in 2017.

Garden and literacy teacher Cole Jadrosich of Tilden Middle School shared how the orchard has impacted his students. In an article about POP in GROW magazine, he said, “Working in the garden and with the trees gives us the raw material for all sorts of learning. It’s not just more worksheets, more math drills. If we find a caterpillars, students can look it up in the library. We’ve turned food from the garden into smoothies and sandwiches, trying new things. We’re learning from nature as we bring it into our neighborhood.” 

Families came out to plant trees and herbs at Tilden Middle School and Bartram High School’s spring planting day!

Ongoing collaboration with partners forms the basis of POP’s developing multidisciplinary curriculum and our database of downloadable lessons that will continue to grow well into 2018 and beyond. Each lesson pack will contain lesson plan with targeted Pennsylvania State Standards for Education, teacher guide, and handouts.

The first PDF pack of materials for Tea Time: Exploring Orchard Herbs through the Senses – suitable for grades 6-12 is available here: Lesson Plan; Teacher’s Guide; Handout; Photo Guide. This lesson was piloted at Sayre HS in the fall, where four core, committed students in the after-school gardening program said they wanted to learn how to make value-added products like tea-bags to add to their weekly CSA.

In this lesson, students tasted teas made from different orchard herbs, explored the different flavors and medicinal actions of common orchard plants, learned harvest and drying methods, and formulated their very own tea blends! 

Sayre HS students Najeer and Danny blend dry herbs including mountain mint, lemon balm, peppermint, and fennel into soothing herbal tea bags!

In 2018, POP plans to launch new monthly, downloadable lesson guides, co-author school literature guides with The Philadelphia Free Library for use in classrooms across the city, and to host other creative, seasonal offerings for students of all ages. Stay tuned! 

If you’re interested in volunteering with our school orchard sites, becoming an orchard liaison at a school orchard site, or participating with curriculum development and collaboration, please contact Education Director Alyssa Schimmel at alyssa@phillyorchards.org

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: phillyorchards. org/donate.