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

Honoring Roseann McLaughlin and GrowAbility Honeybee Sensory Lesson Book (PDF Download)

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Roseann McLaughlin (far right) along with staff at Overbrook School for the Blind during a groundbreaking ceremony for the school’s new greenhouse program.

It’s with deep sadness that we at the Philadelphia Orchard Project offer our heartfelt condolences to the family, friends, and community of Roseann McLaughlin of Overbrook School for the Blind, who passed November 2, 2018 in a tragic house fire. Roseann was the enthusiastic and loving cornerstone of the school’s Farm-To-Table program begun in 2013, which connected Overbrook students to healthy food, on-site gardening opportunities, an ever-expanding school orchard, and in-development greenhouse. She served at the school for 15 years as a Registered Nurse, Certified Nurse Practitioner, and Health Services Coordinator, and was recounted lovingly by staff and the larger community as one of the most encouraging, dedicated, and positive people and team members, who always had a kind word of support to share and a new idea to explore that could expand students’ horizons. She had the unique gift of making everyone feel appreciated — from staff who had known her for many years, to volunteers who came in to lend a hand, even for an afternoon.

In March 2017, she initiated a new collaborative curriculum endeavor named GrowAbility with agricultural educators around the city — including OverbrookElwyn, and Easter Seals schools, POP, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Penn State Extension, 4-H, Associated Services for the Blind, Philadelphia Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center, Greener Partners, and others — to asses how garden curriculum could be adapted for special needs students. In our last meeting together, we brainstormed ideas for new projects like making music from the plants of the orchard with a device that could translate plants’ electrical signaling into music, and could be felt by students with deep-bodily sensory-input needs through students’ vibratory backpacks. She delighted in the collaboration of new ideas, how they germinated, and grew. Her giving heart, commitment to her work and community, and her service-oriented spirit was unparalleled and will be sorely missed as a project partner we are blessed to have had, and as a kindred friend. It’s our deep wish that the continuation of this work honors her legacy for all those who were blessed to know her and carry her intentions and plans forward.

A GoFundMe campaign has been established to support her daughter Casey and grandson Michael. 

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Honeybee Sensory Lesson 

In honor of Roseann McLaughlin and the collective consortium of educators she gathered, we share the first sensory-lesson book created by POP and reviewed by the GrowAbility collective as an adaptive activity guide book for special needs students.  Inspiration for the format first came from Linda Bucher of Overbrook School for the Blind, who supported the school’s Farm-to-Table program along with Roseann, teacher Lee Stough, Library Assistant/Farm-to-Table Job Coach Shannon Walsh, School Nutritionist Cathy Dorazio, and art teacher Susan DiFabio. 

Each page in this Honeybee Sensory Lesson Book (downloadable here) pairs information about the topic, life and role of honeybees in the larger ecosystem, with a sensory component that involves some mix of sight, smell, taste, movement, music / auditory input, solitary, and group work in recognition of the many ways students of all levels create pathways for learning, experience, and retention. 

Cover page for the 15-page book that can be adapted by teacher based on length of lesson and skill-level of students.

Each guidebook is adaptable — meaning teachers can choose which pages to present and props to use from the suggested accompanying prop-box based on the needs of their unique student group. We also include a rubric (downloadable here) that teachers can use as a guide for categorizing the book’s pages and for assessing students’ response to paged / themed activities. 

Students pretend to be drones with large-eyed sunglasses, fan the queen like a worker bee, and enact the process of pollination with hands-on tactile props.

Educators can consider a range of follow-up activities to complement the lesson book including art exercises making honeybees with tissue paper, as Lee Stough’s class had done (pictured here), visits with teaching demo beekeepers and hives (consult Philadelphia Beekeeper’s Guild for more info), planting pollinator gardens, making honey bee drinking dishes, etc. 

Teacher Lee Stough passes around a boar’s hair brush for students to feel the short bristly hairs of the honeybee that holds flowers’ pollen from one flower to the next.

This lesson was first offered to Lee Stough’s class, which includes a mix of student levels — from those with partial to fully obstructed sight, to those geared more toward sensory learning and to those able to perform at grade-level academically. The GrowAbility collective aims to pilot this lesson 10 times in the fall across various program sites including Elwyn, and Easter Seals Schools, Philadelphia Free Library branches, and with 4-H student groups and make edits to the curriculum with the larger collected findings.

As a follow-up to the lesson, Lee Stough’s class made flying honeybee decorations using tissue paper that the students ripped and glued in place.

Lee Stough’s Feedback on the Lesson: “The HoneyBee lesson was a big success with my students who have visual impairments and multiple disabilities.The adults also loved it and were as equally engaged as the students. The lesson allowed the students to learn about Honeybees through all their senses not just vision.  They were able to hear a swarm of bees through the classroom speakers, feel the hairs that are on the Honeybees by touching a Boars’ hair hairbrush, they were able to taste pollen grains, and smell the lemon scents bees give off to locate their hives. This lesson is in-depth and engaging.  Learners of all abilities will be engaged and want to participate.” 

If you’d like to pilot this lesson with your student group and loan the laminated book and accompanying prop box, feel free to reach out to Education Director Alyssa Schimmel, alyssa@phillyorchards.org 

This POP Blog Post and Curriculum Materials were written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel 

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

Getting Funky with Fermentation – MS/HS Lesson (PDF Download)

Posted on Categories Blog, Cooking & Preservation, Home, Plants, POP OrchardsTags , , , , , , , , ,

If there’s one thing we continually learn in offering our School Orchard Program it’s that culinary classes are always a hit with students and teachers alike! They’re hands-on and sensory-rich, foster team-work, collaboration, and creative thinking, and offer educators a breadth of content integration possibilities. Take for instance a recent summertime lesson on fermentation we offered at Sayre High School in West Philadelphia, where students of the after-school and summer garden programs, cultivate a garden of assorted vegetable and fruit crops they sell twice weekly (Tues. 3:45-5 @ Sayre Health Center and Weds. 4-5 @ Red Cross House (4000 Powelton Ave) in their CSA Good Food Bag for the surrounding community with special focus upon those using SNAP/EBT.

The hands-on session provided an entry point to discussing regional culinary traditions informed by planned and local plant ecologies, botanical families of plants featured in the recipe and the school garden & orchard, and culinary science and biological processes, all while creating space for students to hatch new ideas of entrepreneurship & creating value-added products for the program from the landscape (a particular desire students expressed). What can we say? Orchards lend themselves naturally to interdisciplinary learning that feeds curiosity and awareness of interdependence at the same time they nourish with fresh food.

The lesson began by situating the timeliness of the material seasonally — asking students what methods of food preservation they might use at the peak of the season when they have more vegetables, fruits, and herbs harvested than they know what to do with. They shared a number of responses: canning, freezing, drying, pickling, and of course, donating and sharing the harvest with others — and then the funky one that packs a particular punch on the palette — fermentation. We sampled examples of fermented foods like sourdough bread, sauerkraut, and fizzy, fermented tea-beverage, kombucha, noting the signature saliva-producing lactic bite of foods gone funky, explored the chemistry that’s enacted in the process, and then delved into the hands-on sauerkraut-making portion that could incorporate orchard herbs like bee balm, oregano, and thyme, commonly planted in most if not all POP community orchards.

High school students in the summer program at Sayre High School practice their culinary skills by chopping cabbage to make sauerkraut — learning fermentation as a food preservation method used for preserving the harvest.

During our session together, students also drew personal parallels to their own culinary memories and traditions. One student, Jonathan, shared how sauerkraut always reminded him of his grandfather because they enjoy kraut-topped hot dogs at baseball games together every summer. We also discussed how cultured foods literally create culture (not only for groups of people), but also for the populations of bacteria, fungi, and yeast of a particular region/place that can be shared over many years, topographies, and borders. Take a look at Ione Christensen of Canada, for instance, who’s been tending to a 120-year old culture of sourdough that traveled to her from her great-grandfather back in 1897. That’s one kickin’ culture!

What’s more as fodder to ponder, is what as fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz calls, ‘the miracle of coevolution – that the bacteria that coexist with us in our bodies enable us to exist.’ In The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World, Katz cites microbiologist Michael Wilson who notes “each surface of a human being is colonized by microbes exquisitely adapted to that particular environment” and in the era of the ‘war on bacteria,’ he advocates “the well-being of our microbial ecology requires replenishment and diversification now more than ever.” Equally relevant to the health of our digestive and immune systems in nourishing rich microbiomes, we also take this point for its application to organic orcharding. When we boost fertility and build fungal-rich soil through sheet-mulching, compost tea application and foliar sprays, the plants of the orchard thrive and and sustain themselves more readily from fending off other fungal or bacterial diseases, as noted organic orchardist and author Michael Phillips proposes.

May it be that the standards-based lesson materials available here as a PDF download — along with picture guide and handout — contribute in small part to the aim of  working in ever-closer harmony with the microbes of yeast, fungi, and bacteria that support the ecology of the orchards, our bodies, ourselves.

This POP Blog Post and Curriculum Materials were written by Education Director Alyssa Schimmel 

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