Monthly Archives: January 2010

Persimmons: A Winter Treat

On these grey & chilly days, I long for sunny days & starry nights in the backcountry. And the dampness deters much dehydration since my equipment is set up in the detached laundry room, sans benefit of central heat.

Frankly, I’m feeling a little … oh, let’s just say unmotivated regarding trail food. My last outdoor adventure was a 10-mile run on Angel Island, thanks to the Pacific Coast Trail Runs folks , but I sure didn’t need to pack any food for that.

If I had packed some food, however, it would have been some sweet, bright orange chunks of dried persimmons! Whoo-hoo! Now there’s a treat to brighten up a soggy winter day. If I were as handy with a camera as I am with a dehydrator and knife, I’d be able to show you pictures of these little gems. Instead, you get a story.

First, for weeks, maybe months, I lusted after the persimmons hanging coyly from my neighbors’ trees. Yes — 2 trees on my street, neither of them in my backyard. And everytime I stopped by to knock on the door to beg some extra fruit, no one would answer the door.

Certainly I could have stooped to buying persimmons, but somehow that seemed wrong. I have not yet bought a single persimmon in my decade in California. Somehow, they appear in my kitchen without monetary exchange, although this year I was starting to have doubts.

Back in 1999, the first winter I spend in California, already wondering about the intellegence of living in a place that had non-stop winter rains, Mr. Jack took me over to visit an old friend of his, a charming retired Scoutmaster. As we stood in the kitchen, making small talk, he turned to me & announced, out of the blue, that he had a bumper crop of persimmons this year. Would I like some?

“Oh yes!” I gushed. “I love persimmons!”

He grabbed a bag and stepped out the door to fill it for me.

I turned to Mr. Jack with just 1 question: “What are persimmons?”

To this day, I find it hard to believe that I spent the first 3 decades of my life without these lucious fruits. And here I was, this winter of 2009, about to miss out again.

Until I noticed the heavy-hanging fruit on a tree almost in my backyard. One of the neighbors on the adjourning street had not yet harvested the persimmon tree. I scooted around the corner and scooped out the house. Hmmm. An as-yet unmet neighbor. I’m an introvert. This could be difficult. I scooted back around the corner & knocked on the known-neighbor’s door. Nope.

I stuffed a plastic shopping bag with handles into my jacket pocket. I jammed the garden clippers into a back trouser pocket. I took a walk around the corner, took off my wool cap and knocked on the unknown -neighbor’s door, rehersing my pitch … and came home with pounds of slightly overripe Fuyu persimmons; much longer and they would be as juicy and soft as an edible Hachiya.

Traditionally, persimmons are dried whole or in “cartwheels,” as shown in the picture to the right.

Since I wanted a finished product that would work well in a backpacking fruit mix, however, I used 2 different methods: whole fruits chopped into big chunks and some pureed and dried into fruit leather wafers. Of course, I overate both kinds trying to decide which was more delicious. I did save a few cups for next year’s backpack fruit mix.

And of course, I ate several pounds of fruit without benefit of dehydrator. And why not? Persimmons are not only sweet, sticky, delicious and beautiful, but also remarkably good for us, despite the high sugar load of 18.6% (bananas have 20.4%, blueberries only 11). Each fruit is loaded with Vitamins A, Bs & C, as well as important minerals & anti-oxidants. And did I mention that the dehydrated chunks are chewy like gumdrops?

My next door neighbor’s tree is still unpicked. As soon as this rain stops, I might be knocking on her door for just one more batch.

Economics & Self-sufficiency

I like to think of myself as economically sound & self-sustaining, don’t you?

A person can’t really do much backpacking without being somewhat self-sustaining. After all, on the trail, there’s no take-out Chinese or pizza delivery, no movie rentals, coffee shops, or pharmacies. Not even hot water on demand (my personal weakness). And certainly no motorized transportation. Could any activity be more self sufficient than walking?

But it wasn’t backpacking that started me thinking about self-sufficiency; it was a recent city council meetings with many involved citizens talking about economic growth in our little town. One of the participants later posted an article reflecting on the economic theories of Jane Jacobs. I recommend jumping on over after you’ve finished this blog & reading the whole thing. This is the sentence that stuck with me:

According to Jacobs, the engine of economic life is “import-replacement.” What this somewhat clunky term means is making the products you have been buying.

While Jacobs is talking on a societal scale rather than the personal, her ideas, in combination with another article by the thoughtful Peter Bregman, started me thinking about my how the concept of making what I have been buying might apply to my life.

Not that I buy much: food from the farmers market, the co-op or the garden; clothes & housewares at the local thrift store; most of my books from the local library or used book store. I’m not quite ready to start raising all my own food or sewing my own clothes, much less weaving blankets, towels & dishclothes! Neither am I committed to biking the 14 miles to work or concocting household cleaning supplies. According to the various solar engineers who have sadly shaken their heads at my home’s southern exposure, I can’t even make solar hot water.

But one thing I can do is make my own backpacking food.

As we hike along with our self-sufficient backpacks, most of the items that we carry along have been produced by other folks, even if some of us have gone so far as to stitch up our own sleeping quilts, backpacks and tents as proposed by lightweight backpacking guru Ray Jardin.

And we are grateful to the folks who cobbled our shoes, wove our socks, spun our primaloft, stitched our backpacks, produced our flashlights & cooking pots & stove & water filters! Very grateful indeed to those dear workers who made the batteries, filled the fuel tank, finished the shoe laces, hemmed our bandanas! Take a moment here to send your gratitude to all of those who make the practical, hardworking objects that make our backpacking possible.

And then reflect:

Our food can be different. Our food can be hand-made.

I make my own food for many reasons, not least because it’s the most entertaining and absorbing method of ensuring optimum nutrition and deliciousness on the trail. Organic, mostly whole food meals, free of wheat, soy & sugar, are not so easy to come by on the wall of foil packs in our local backpacking store. I like to think my way saves money, too. This might not actually pencil out if I calculated my “earning” rate for the hours I’ve spent laboring over the blender, food processor, chopping block & dehydrater. Since I’m leveraging “hobby” hours into food, however, my assumption is probably true.

Turns out that preparing food for the trail is something more than a hobby. (No, compulsion is not the word I’m looking for, she says–perhaps a tad defensively). It’s more like sewing my own clothes, making my own furniture, or growing vegetables in a backyard garden (there she is with the food again!). It’s a way to be somewhat self-sufficient. Admittedly a very small way–but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step right?

For this new year, I hope that you will continue your forward journey into self-sufficient backpacking food production!

Next blog, I hope to tell you the story of the next door neighbor’s persimmons and what became of them.
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