Jeju Native Gam, Jeju Native Gal
Jeju native persimmons grow only in the area of Jeju, and can be reproduced either with seeds or through grafting. Trees transplanted outside of the area suffer from poor stiffness and low tannin content due to the change in soil type. The trees’ flowers bloom in late spring producing fruits in late summer. Often, fruits collected in the summer are crushed in a mortar to obtain the juice, which can be used for dying fabrics – a practice that dates back to the 1600s. The red fruits harvested in late fall, after the first frosts, are mature enough for eating. The fruits are smaller than average persimmons and contain a large quantity of seeds. Their taste is generally both sweet and astringent. Persimmons are also believed to have medicinal properties, fighting colds and respiratory illnesses. To prepare fruits in a way to lessen their astringency, hard, green fruits harvested before they are ripe in autumn are soaked in water for 3-4 days, changing the water each day. Placing a green persimmon in a jar of unrefined barley can also help remove astringency. Soju is a local alcohol made with an infusion of persimmon that has existed since the Japanese Colonial period. Many locations take their names from the presence of persimmons (gam) in the area, such as Gamsan-ri (a mountain), Gam-nang-mul (a pond), and Gam-nang-gol (a valley) in Jeju. Trees over 100 years of age can still be found in the areas of Hagui, Wolpyung and Wahole. Today, persimmon trees grow wild, and often, the fruits go unharvested. Once common on the local market, today, few are sold commercially. This is partially due to the spread of varieties producing sweeter persimmons and other fruits and persimmon juice being imported to Jeju. Land development has also destroyed the habitat of the trees or for monocropping of imported fruit varieties. Remaining trees are mainly found in mountain areas. With the reduction of native persimmons, the traditional cloth dying tradition is also being lost.
Image: © Raimondo Cusmano