If you're slightly befuddled by persimmons, that's OK. You either grew up in a persimmon region, culture, and family, or you didn't. But you should feel in no way inadequate about your current level of persimmon assimilation. Now, however, is the time to empower yourself with persimmon knowledge, because this fruit is currently at its best. It's one of autumn's greatest gifts, whether it's made into preserves, baked in pies, cakes, and assorted pastries (and the best fruitcake known to mankind), folded into bread pudding, simply roasted, tossed in salads, or even eaten raw.

But about that last one. Persimmons could easily be visually mistaken for orange-yellow tomatoes, were it not for the fact that these big berries are grown on trees and each topped with a calyx that's probably turned a woody green-brown by the time it's reached you. There are two different kinds of persimmons, with wildly different flavors, hence the importance of knowing what you're getting into if you decide to go the raw route.

Persimmons, sometimes called "divine fruit" or "fruit of the gods," originated in China, and have long been cultivated in Japan, where they're the national fruit. More recently, they've taken root in Britain, where they're called "date plums," and have popped up in plenty of places across the United States since the seeds were first brought here in 1856. The slightly oval astringent hachiya persimmon is firm, tangy, and almost too painfully tart to eat until it's fully, burstingly soft and ripe (a process that can be hastened by leaving it to steep in its own ethylene gas in a paper bag for a few days). The flatter, non-astringent fuya is firm enough to slice like an apple and enjoy raw on its own, peeled or unpeeled. 

Many persimmon devotees think of hachiya as a "baking persimmon," and that's not inaccurate. Save the fuya for cheese plates, salads, and snacks, and use the cooked, luscious hachiya to bring moisture, sweetness, and heft to dessert recipes. It can also be broiled or roasted and served as a side dish alongside seasonal greens, mushrooms, meat, or your favorite breakfast main at a leisurely weekend brunch.