Persimmons

  (Myung J. Chun, Los Angeles Times)

There are more than 100 varieties of persimmons, but for the most part they divide into two classes: the acorn-shaped Hachiyas and the tomato-shaped Fuyus. The difference is critical. Hachiyas absolutely must be very soft, almost pudding-y, before they are edible (and then they are truly delectable). Fuyus can be eaten when they are crisp.

How to choose: Whatever the variety, choose persimmons that have deep, saturated colors. Some experts claim that a little streak of black on the skin of Hachiya persimmons indicates an especially sweet piece of fruit. In fact, if you're looking for already ripe Hachiyas, you'll often see some black staining on the skin. This is not a problem.

How to store: Persimmons will continue to ripen after they've been harvested. With Hachiyas, in fact, you may be better off buying them slightly underripe and then finishing them at home, to avoid buying fruit that's been badly bruised. There are those who recommend freezing underripe Hachiyas in order to make them edible quickly, but the flavor is never quite as good. Store both varieties at room temperature. Refrigerating them will result in chill damage quite quickly.

How to prepare: Ripe Hachiyas make a wonderful dessert if you simply cut an X at the tip, peel back the skin like a flower and top it with a little bourbon-flavored whipped cream and some toasted walnuts. With Fuyus, cut them in thin wedges and dress them with mint and a little lime juice for a refreshing side dish for grilled pork. Sweeten this with sugar, add a little orange-flavored liqueur and you've got a nice dessert.