Make the most of one of wintertime's best fruits.
Credit: Photo: Teresa Sabga

Fall and winter are prime season for golden and orange persimmons. Long part of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines, persimmons are enjoyed fresh out of hand, dried for a gingery sweet punch, and as a dried fruit snack in Asia. Native Americans once prized a variety indigenous to North America. Today, though, most American cooks probably best know persimmons for their use in holiday puddings. But their versatility spans both sweet and savory applications, including baked goods and fresh salsas.

Available October through February, persimmons are sometimes compared to apricots or plums in flavor and texture, and when fully ripe have cinnamon, clove, and sweet undertones. The two most common varieties available in the United States are Fuyu and Hachiya. The key difference between the two is their level of astringency, which creates a bitter taste sensation. Just like black tea or red wine, the intense orange Hachiya contain tannins that create this dry sensation if eaten unripe. Larger than Fuyus and with a pointed bottom, Hachiyas need to ripen to develop their sweet, soft (almost gelatinous) flesh, which can be eaten with a spoon. Because the Hachiya is so soft when ripe, it is often pureed for use in ice cream or quick breads. Fuyus, which look like yellow-orange tomatoes, are eaten when firm and crisp, and are not astringent. They hold up well in salads, salsas, and stir-fries. Both varieties are available October through early January.

Selection and storage: Selecting persimmons can be tricky since Hachiyas are at their best when water-balloon soft. Ripe Fuyus won't be as soft as ripe Hachiyas, though the fruit is still sweet and tasty when it yields slightly to pressure.
• Choose persimmons that are heavy for their size.
• Look for fruit with glossy, firm, brightly colored skin.
• Handle persimmons with care; their delicate skins bruise easily.
• Persimmons fare better stored at room temperature. Once ripe, they are best eaten immediately but may be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to three days.
• Fuyus can be eaten when still crisp, as they are a nonastringent variety.
• Hachiyas are ready to eat when they are so soft, the skin is ready to burst.

Persimmon puree pointers: Ripe Hachiya puree, a versatile ingredient used in some of our recipes, is easy to make by following these tips:
• To speed the ripening process, freeze the fruit overnight or until solid. Thaw the persimmon; when soft, it will be sweeter and less astringent.
• Cut the ripe fruit in half. Scoop the pulp out with a spoon.
• To achieve an even consistency, place the flesh in a mini-chopper and process until smooth. This ensures the persimmon puree will incorporate evenly into batters.