Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Onion goggles

We have a pair of clear-lens ski goggles we keep in the kitchen to wear when cutting onions.

You really want to be done with onions burning your eyes? This is it. You know, the fumes get in around glasses. This really stops them. Ski goggles, with the foam seal all the way around. Clear-lens, like for night skiing, not tinted. They give good vision, and they don’t steam up.

The only down side is, later out snowshoeing. What’s that smell? Onions.

very ripe pear

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Using “overripe” fruit

People often throw away fruit that has even one soft spot. They’ll spit out in disgust an apple that’s mushy and mealy. Yet fruit at this far limit of ripeness actually makes the best cooked sauces.

When fruit is green, it’s hard and sour. It’s hard because the cells are firmly glued together by pectin. It’s sour because the carbohydrate is starch, which has no sweet taste.

cell structure of under ripe fruit

Unripe fruit is sour and hard

If you were to try to cook green fruit into sauce, it would never get sweet, because cooking doesn’t break down starch into sugar. What you might get, if you drain off the liquid, is a solution of pectin, useful for making jelly. This was the traditional way of getting pectin before it was a commercial product.

As fruit gets ripe, several processes occur. At the surface, the whole fruit changes color. Inside, the fruit tissues produce a mixture of esters, flavor molecules that give the characteristic essence of, say, apple, peach, or pear. If this fruity scent is not there before you cook fruit, there’s no way it can be there after!

The pectin that binds the cells, one to another, begins to break down, so the whole fruit gets softer.

cell structure of ripe fruit

ripe fruit is sweet and flavorful

The starch turns to sugar, and goes into each cell’s central vacuole. This vacuole is like a storage tank, which makes up most of the internal space of the cell. The fruit cells become like tiny water balloons, full of flavorful liquid.

When you bite into a piece of fruit that is perfectly ripe, your chewing crushes the cells open to release their sweetness and flavor.

As fruit gets past the point of perfect ripeness, the same processes go further. Esters build up even more, and can give the fruit an “off” flavor, even reminiscent of paint thinner. The starch continues to convert to sugar, and builds up even more in the cell interior.

cell structure of over ripe fruit

overripe fruit is excessively soft

If there’s so much sugar, why is an overripe apple mealy and bland? The pectin that used to glue the cells together is gone, so the cells come apart from each other when you chew. They roll around in your mouth like little BBs. They don’t pop open and release their sweetness.

If you take courage, and dare to cook fruit that has gone into this unpromising state, the magic happens. The heat drives off excess esters, and tones the flavor down. The cells burst open, and release all their internal sugar.

If there’s any complaint, it may well be that the product is “too sweet”. You can always blend it with something that could use additional sweetness, or use it as a sweetener in its own right. Some years ago, there was a spate of natural products advertised as “pear juice sweetened”. This is where that pear sweetener came from.

In using past-peak fruit, there’s a line between overripe and actually rotten. Apples and pears can be completely brown and translucent, but it’s merely their own ripening process.

very ripe pear

Extremely ripe, but fine

This is the same thing that happens, to a different degree, in the fruit of the medlar (Mespilus germanica), closely related to pears and apples. Medlars are not considered ripe until they are “bletted”, which is the word for this stage of being brown and soft.

You can tell by the smell. If it smells like fruit, even very fruity, it’s OK. Your nose knows. But if it smells like vinegar, or mold, or fermented, it’s gone beyond. And of course don’t use it if you can see actual mold.

pear showing mold

surface mold, truly rotting

If you have overripe fruit trickling in piece by piece, you can collect it in bags in your freezer until you have enough for a batch to cook. You can cut it in quarters so it packs better, and to make sure there are no “worms”, as in homegrown fruit.

Damage, such as worms, induce early ripening, so a worm-stung fruit may originally be only overripe, though the hole can introduce rot which quickly spoils the whole thing. Often, especially in pears, a worm does little damage, causing only a hard lump by the core. The major part of the fruit is fine, though unsightly, and perfect for sauce.

white grit with ruler showing few mm size

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Clean the grit out of sesame seeds

Use water flotation to remove the grit (small rocks) from sesame seeds.

I have been piqued that even high quality sesame seeds contain grit. There’s the disconcerting crunch between my teeth, when eating food made from these sesame seeds. You don’t want to wear out your teeth, chewing rocks! A cracked tooth can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Who needs that?

Cleaning seeds and other agricultural products is a challenge. The only practical way, on commercial scale, is to make use of some difference in properties between the contaminant and the desired material. For seeds, this is typically some combination of sieving and air-blowing.

When you cook a batch of dry beans, you occasionally find a rock or clump of dirt masquerading as one of the beans. it got through the threshing because it was about the same size and weight as a bean. Beans are big enough you can spot the rocks, and pick them out. But sesame seeds are too small.

After trying this a couple of times, I came up with a way, and decided to post this. Here, I use the difference in density. Sesame seeds are oily, and therefore mostly float in water or at least stay suspended. The grit sinks.

Sesame seeds seem to have a life of their own. They are light and slippery, and yet at the same time like to stick to everything. Pouring and spooning them, some always get out and make a mess. So I thought ahead. I was going to have a mass of wet sesame seeds I would need to dry. And dry fairly fast, to prevent mold.

I have a dehydrator. The setup for drying the seeds is one of the dehydrator trays, and a clean bandana.

dehydrator tray and folded bandana

Set up for drying

The bandana goes on top of the tray screen. It serves as a strainer to hold the sesame seeds, while letting water go through. But the cloth is bigger than the tray. The edges would be in the way, when slid into the dehydrator.

bandana draped over dehydrator tray, showing the bandana is bigger

Bandana overlaps tray

So the edges of the cloth are tucked behind the tray screen.

back side of dehydrator tray showing cloth edges folded out of the way

Fold the edges under

The time to get this ready is at the start, before fumbling with a mass of wet sesame seeds.

bandana with edges tucked under dehydrator tray mesh

Edges tucked

Next, the sesame seeds. I did about a 3-cup batch.

3 cups of sesame seeds in a glass quart measure cup

Batch of sesame seeds

I added water to make 4 cups, and stirred a bit.

measure cup and sesame seeds filled to 4 cups with water

Add water to float the seeds

Then I just poured out the floating sesame seeds on the cloth. I also included the sesame seeds that were not clearly floating but only suspended in the water.

pouring water and sesame seeds out of measure cup

Pour out the floating seeds

The grit stays on the bottom.

water and residue in measure cup after pouring off floating seeds

Grit is on the bottom

I spread out the wet sesame seeds and got them drying. The lowest temperature setting is enough, about 90°F.

spreading wet sesame seeds on dehydrator tray

Spread out the wet seeds

The next part is optional, if you want to prove the grit is in that residue. It just looks like more sesame seeds.

sesame seed residue in bottom of measure cup

The dregs

I put the remainder on some metal that could take the heat, in this case, a juice can lid.

residual sesame seeds on can lid

Support to burn

I set up to burn out the remaining organic matter.

propane torch showing how it will burn the residue

Set up to burn

After the water boiled away, the seed oil caught fire.

residuals sesame seeds burning with a flame

Oils burn off

This last part takes a lot of propane, so you might not want to waste the fuel. The charcoal bits have to be red-hot.

propane torch roasting residue

Roast the remainder

The carbon slowly oxidizes away.

glowing carbon burning away

Carbon slowly oxidizes

When the carbon is gone, there are the tell-tale rocks.

grit after burning away carbon

Remaining grit

Sure enough, they are about the size and color of sesame seeds.

white grit with ruler showing few mm size

Measures like sesame seeds.

Meanwhile, the wet sesame seeds are drying. The bandana makes it easy to put them away with minimal mess.

bandana holding dried sesame seeds

Easy pickup

wide bush persimmon tree

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Grow a little persimmon tree

Persimmon trees are eminently suited for training to small size.

I recently read the book “Grow a Little Fruit Tree” by Ann Ralph. I am in complete agreement on the principles, but I was surprised the author “excuses” persimmon trees. Oh, let them grow big, was the plea, they’re so beautiful in the fall.

Well my little persimmon tree gets a lot more attention in the autumn, because it is so small. Persimmons are widely planted across Portland. People put one in, then just let it go. All summer, it blends into the background amidst the rest of the green. In fall, it drops its leaves to reveal the bounty of orange globes — too high to reach.

I planted my persimmon tree in April 2014. I set it in a good spot. But I, too, just let it go. In 2016, when scarcely more than six feet tall, it bore its first crop. I didn’t realize what was going on until the leaves fell off. Eighty persimmons on that small tree!

small persimmon tree

First crop in 2016, 80 persimmons when only 6 feet tall.

One day I was looking out the window. A little Asian lady walking along the sidewalk stopped dead in her tracks to stare. I’m not the only one to appreciate small fruit trees!

persimmons below eye level

Looking down on persimmons.

I had seen persimmon trees in yards in California, grown tall and skinny, all the fruit perched two stories high. I was determined not to let mine get away. I agree with the philosophy of “Grow a Little Fruit Tree”, but I have a difference of technique. I was not about to chop my tree off six inches above the ground, or whatever it was. No, I liked the growth up to six feet. I just wasn’t going to let it get any taller.

Most fruiting trees, such as apples, pears, peaches, plums, and cherries, bear fruit on existing branches. The flowers pop out of buds that formed the previous year, then stayed dormant through winter. Persimmons are different. If you look at a leafless tree in winter, you will find no fruit buds. Where do the persimmons come from?

diagram, fruit on new growth

Fruit forms only on new growth.

Only when new leafy shoots grow out in spring do flower buds develop in the axils of the leaves. These buds open into small four-petaled flowers, typically creamy white. These flowers are rather inconspicuous, especially since by that time the tree is well covered in leaves.

The salient point for tree size is that, in order for your persimmon tree to have fruit, it has to make fairly extensive growth of new shoots. These can be outward, but if you let them they will also go up.

diagram, persimmon unpruned

Unpruned, branches extend up.

My experience is that persimmons actually tend to have most fruit on the outward-spreading new growth, relatively little on the uprights. So you are not losing anything by taking out the verticals. I mostly use the technique of “drop crotch-ing”. I cut back to the point where a branch divides in two, a crotch. I take out the more vertical side.

diagram, drop-crotch cut

Cutting directs growth outward.

To keep a tree short, I am always thinking about reach height. Simply, the height to which I can reach, while standing on the ground. Since a persimmon has to grow outward in order to fruit, I want the results of winter pruning to be below reach height, because that’s where spring growth will start.

Some of the uprights on my tree were getting rather large, more than an inch in diameter. The best available crotches had side branching less than half that size. I thought, if I cut off such vigorous limbs, I might induce the tree to shoot out a thicket of water sprouts from that point. To my surprise, this did not happen. The tree was perfectly satisfied to re-direct its growth mostly in the wide spreading direction.

In all tree pruning for fruit, you need to think ahead. If you have a persimmon tree that has grown up so it has only major trunk to reach height, you will not have such an easy time getting it small again.

So I have managed to keep my persimmon tree small, much to the incredulity of some. There have even been visitors who had a hard time believing those really could be persimmons, on a mere bush. The crops have not been mere. Below is a picture of the tree in 2018. More than 350 fruit, and I could reach them all.

wide bush persimmon tree

Crop in 2018, more than 350 fruit, all in reach.

Well, 350 was what I tallied. A friend in the neighborhood later casually mentioned he’d been helping himself. I asked, about how many? Maybe fifty. So there may have been considerably more.

It seems like a lot of Portland persimmon tree owners finally haul out the ladder to pick the fruit in late fall, when they notice birds are pecking them. Or they give up and don’t bother, because the birds have pecked everything. Out of my 350 persimmons, only 13 were pecked into, most at the very top of the tree. Birds prefer staying as high above ground as possible, for safety.

looking down on persimmons

Fruit close to the ground.

So that’s another point in favor of short persimmon trees. Natural bird deterrent, simply by the fruit being at bird-scaring closeness to the ground.