When autumn is right on the edge of dipping into winter, when most trees are bare of leaves, that's when you'll find ripe persimmons, hanging from their trees like bright orange ornaments.
While there is an edible American persimmon that grows wild in the eastern half of the country, the most common types of persimmons you'll find at the market are two Japanese varietals—Fuyu and Hachiya. If you plan on eating them it is crucially important to know how to tell them apart!
Fuyu persimmons are short and squat, and are shaped much like tomatoes. When they are orange, they're ripe, and can be eaten like an apple.
You don't have to peel them, but I do. Just cut out the crown, peel them or not, and cut into wedges to eat. Once in a while you may find a dime-sized brown seed, just remove.
During my many trips to Japan I have often been served Fuyu persimmons this time of year. Always, they were presented this way, already peeled and sliced.
Fuyu persimmons can be used in salads, like this Apple Pomegranate Persimmon Salad, added to breakfast cereal, or frozen to use in smoothies. You can bake with them too, as you would apples.
Fuyu persimmons will keep for months if stored in a dry, dark, cool place. If set on a counter to ripen, eventually they will soften a bit. At this point you can purée the fruit and use it for recipes that call for persimmon purée.
Hachiya persimmons tend to be a little larger than Fuyu and are more acorn shaped.
The main difference between hachiya persimmons and fuyus is that hachiyas are extremely astringent until they are completely soft and ripe.
If you bite into a hard, unripe hachiya, you'll never forget it! Talk about mouth puckering.
When a hachiya is ripe, it's wonderfully sweet.
To ripen a hachiya persimmon, just leave it out on the counter and wait. (You can speed up the ripening process by putting the persimmon in a bag with a ripe banana.) Eventually the persimmon will get so ripe you can squeeze it like an over-ripe tomato.
When you break into a ripe Hachiya, the flesh is soft and pudding-like. Just scoop it out with a spoon. You can eat it straight like that, or save the pulp for baking.
You can freeze the pulp for cooking with later. (I like to measure out the pulp in amounts that I know I'm going to want to use, like 1/2 cup or 1 cup measures.
Remember how to tell them apart?
The one you can eat like an apple—Fuyu—is short, squat, and firm. The persimmon you have to ripen until it is squishy, and then you eat or use the pulp—Hachiya—looks like a large orange acorn.
Health benefits of persimmons
Persimmons are full of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. They're rich in vitamin A precursor beta-carotene (no surprises there given their bright orange color), vitamin C, and potassium. Because of this, eating persimmons can help you maintain a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, neutralize cancer-causing free-radicals, and lower blood pressure.