With its blazing orange-red skin and endearing green-beret top, the persimmon is the most poetic fruit Korea has to offer. Deeply embedded in the Korean ethos, the persimmon makes its way into the work of her poets:
Byungu Chon is a poet from North Korea whose work I stumbled upon while perusing the Words Without Borders website. When the poet conjures the image of the persimmon falling from the tree and rotting on soil where Koreans from neither side can traverse to signify all that Korea has lost when she was separated into two “nations”, he is invoking all the pain and futility of families who were ripped apart once that 38th parallel demarcation line was drawn.
I told a guy once (one of the many Canadian guys teaching English in Korea who, en masse, had set up a satellite Canadian nation-state in various pubs and bars around town. I will refer to their settlement as Canadia 2.0.) that Korea, regardless of what a room full of Russians and Americans decreed 50 years ago, is one country.
Was it a wistful and naive statement? Yes and no. Yes, because the Koreans who live in the north have been brainwashed and starved for over five decades, with their free speech and individualism beaten out of them within a centimeter of their lives, so it stands to reason that these experiences would set them apart from their southerly counterparts. Counterparts who have been living in an economic, social and cultural boom for the last two decades. What with their Gucci, Chanel and McDonald’s, they have come a long way.
And no, too, because Koreans share DNA that reaches beyond physical attributes. They share the DNA of the heart, proving that Han is Han wherever in Korea you may find yourself. Han is a feeling that could be described in the Western vernacular as combination sadness and hope, but we’re talking collective sadness and hope that is a common thread running through the Korean people. Not to minimize the ennui you’re feeling right now all by your lonesome.
Sadness, inescapable, a hallmark of being Korean, as it is rooted in history and passed down through the generations to create an emotional memory that permeates current culture and society. Chances are that if you are Korean, your grandmother was one of those village girls who never got to feast at the wedding table and whose hope for love dried up like those persimmons on the hill. Chances are she filled your mother’s ear full of these yesteryear stories which she will or has already passed on to you. Will you pass them on too?
Pass on this recipe for persimmon punch to your favorite friends:
Persimmon punch (수정과)
12 dried persimmon
12 cups of water
1/2 cup ginger
1 cup sugar
5 cinnamon sticks
1. Wash, peel and slice ginger. Combine with cinnamon and water in a large pot. Boil for 25, lower heat and simmer for 20.
2. Pull stems off persimmons and rinse well. Set aside.
3. Remove from heat. Fish out the cinnamon and ginger and stir in sugar.
4. Pour liquid in a large ceramic or glass jar, add persimmons, close lid and let sit for 12 hours in the refrigerator.
5. When you’re ready to serve, ladle punch and persimmon in a shallow bowl with a sprinkle of pine nuts.