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

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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’

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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.

Building Self-Reliance through the Tilden School Orchard & Garden

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Cole Jadrosich (center) and Tilden Middle School student gardeners snack on strawberries they picked fresh from their patch in the schoolyard.

Cole Jadrosich is a literacy and agricultural educator at Tilden Middle School, where he leads an after-school garden club for fifth through eighth graders. Here, he shares his experience partnering with POP and cultivating the garden as a place where students learn self-reliance through farming.  In addition to planting a new orchard at Tilden this spring, Jadrosich also brought his students on field trips to variety of other POP orchard plantings, harvests, and other events across the city this season. 

Partnering with POP gave my students and I more than just the chance to plant trees; it provided us with experiential learning opportunities fostering skills for changing our communities while understanding proper plant care. Our classroom became orchards and gardens amid a sea of concrete; our materials morphed into natural resources and tools to shape them. Our curriculum was no longer worksheets and textbooks–rather, a call to direct action, creating and learning how to design agricultural systems that can provide communities with food, medicine, and sustainable practices to help them become cleaner, healthier, independent, and more closely connected.

My mission with expanding the garden and planting the orchard at Tilden Middle School is focused on providing spaces and resources for the youth to develop their own agency and repertoire of skills to be self-reliant. My students shared profound reflections on their experiences with engaging in experiential learning that specifically taught agriculture and permaculture.

A Tilden 5th grader stated, “I think hands-on activities are really good because they teach you life skills. You’re going to know if you need it or not. It’s going to get us ready in life because we’re not just going to be in the house eating potato chips all our lives. We want to make fresh foods so we can live longer. It is going to prepare us for life by knowing that we don’t have to buy corner store food, always going to worry, always going to rely on the store. We can rely on ourselves.

An 8th grader shared, “I feel like hands on activities would encourage kids to engage more [in school] because they are more useful. You’re gonna know if you need it or not because you’re going to think ‘oh, how is this going to occur in my life?’ When we can learn how to make food for ourselves, not go to the store, we learn more efficient ways to live.” Students expressed that the activities we engaged in not only made learning more interesting, but that they also liked the fact that it was helping them learn a skill that prepared them for their futures. Learning strategies through hands-on activities made the practicality of growing food so much clearer to students and how it can benefit their lives.

A Tilden student prepares the ground for planting fruit trees at Pastorius Community Gardens in Germantown, one of many POP sites they helped at this spring.  

Working in those natural spaces also gave me more autonomy and agency to be a more effective educator. Public schools in Philadelphia are often thirty children to one adult in a classroom for 60 minutes: which amounts roughly to each child having just 2 minutes of attention. In a classroom where a handful are learning English, coping with trauma and poverty, and have reading difficulties, two minutes for relationship building, instruction , questions, collaboration, and sometimes redirection is not much. Two minutes to also teach a curriculum that is disconnected from the context of students’ lives and heritages and does not serve to give them skills to cope better, think critically, and live healthier. Outsides the bricks of the institution, in a natural space with 5-8 students, that pressure and congestion is alleviated. By developing a natural classroom in the garden, and reducing the number of children per educator, it increases the amount of interaction time I could have with students, resulting in stronger relationships being built, more trust established, and more chances to engage the student with inquiry and reflection to build their critical thinking and field knowledge.

Giving a student a worksheet on how unsustainable farming practices affect their food, or watching a video on deforestation might be informative. And a multiple choice assessment may prove a pupil remembers select facts from those materials. But those are just learning activities that make students aware of giant conceptual mega-complications, not skills to actually solve them.

Educators, students, and POP volunteers from Tilden Middle School, Bartram High School, and surrounding communities pose for a photo after phase-one planting of the school yard this May.

When we leave the confines of the classroom, we can then create feasible learning tasks that actually give ourselves the skills to counter environmental destruction and industrial food systems. Telling youth to figure out a way to clean the air and stop food producers from using GMOs is out of reach from an individual perspective; especially when you’re told to sit at a desk all day inside. But teaching youth how to plant, which in effect cleans the air and creates access to organic food is motivating and engaging because it is less complicated; a realistic and straightforward task. And, when we learn planting and caring for the plants through experiencing them with our senses, we learn it requires diligence and patience, but is practical and viable.

POP was one of our partners that granted us access to those spaces that helped us escape the confines of regimented education. Not to say there is nothing to be learned in the school system, and not to say formal school has no constructive outlets. But the growing spaces allowed us to learn about the natural world, how to shape it, how to build community around it, and how to produce resources we can utilize to benefit ourselves and our communities. The products the students produced weren’t pieces of paper with arbitrary grades on them, but natural resources they could use to become healthier or provide for their communities. We can’t do that with a worksheet or a test score!

Cole’s team of student gardeners and orchard tenders participated in many of POP’s orchard events this spring. Here, the group celebrates a neighborhood gleaning of juneberries in West Philadelphia. 

I am trying to evolve the “garden club” at Tilden into a full time summer and after-school agriculture program. My goal is to integrate hands-on gardening and orchard care experience with inquiry-driven research projects centered around plant/insect literacy, maintenance and repair in the growing spaces, and indigenous knowledge. Currently, I am trying to acquire enough funding to sustain the program through the summer. Your support can give me the power and resources to provide my students with the learning opportunities they need to continue developing their own agency. To support the campaign, visit https://www.gofundme.com/supporttilden

This POP Partner Feature written by guest writer, Tilden Middle School educator Cole Jadrosich. 

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.