Tasting of the tropics, this fruit improbably withstands a freeze to ripen in the dead of winter.

Tasting of the tropics, this fruit improbably withstands a freeze to ripen in the dead of winter.

Persimmons perk up both cold-season menus and their surroundings with an orange hue that only shines brighter after the tree's leaves have fallen.

"It looks really pretty — like a tree with ornaments," says Gold Hill farmer Monica Rey of persimmons clinging to bare branches. The fruit also enlivens seasonal centerpieces, she says.

Behind a striking appearance, persimmons harbor an equally distinctive — sometimes divisive — flavor.

"People either love them, or they don't know them or they don't like them," says Rey.

Paramount is knowing which persimmon is suited to which type of dish. While there are hundreds of persimmon varieties, most recipes essentially pare the choices down to two: Hachiya or Fuyu.

Packing intense pucker power when underripe, the tannin-laced Hachiya must be mushy before use. Then their jellylike pulp can be scooped out of the skin. Once it turns color, Fuyu can be eaten crisp or allowed to fully soften, making it a more versatile fruit.

The persimmon's flavor is like mango mated to papaya, and baking is a common method for persimmons, says Rey, who hands out lots of recipes for cookies and puddings at her farmers market stall.

Nearly 70 persimmon puddings are featured among the 1,000-plus dishes in the cookbook "Perfectly Persimmon," by Jean Brine (Morris Press Cookbooks, 440 pages, $20). Cooking contests at the annual persimmon festival in Mitchell, Ind., contributed to the collection, which also has a wide assortment of savory recipes, such as persimmon salsa and persimmon meatballs.

Chefs love the crunchy, flat Fuyu as a substitute for apples in salads or other fall fare. Oddball varieties, with tasty nicknames such as "chocolate," "cinnamon" or "coffee cake" persimmon, have found devoted fans. Traditionalists swear by the pointy Hachiya for its complex sweetness — especially when hand-dried.

Drying whole and sliced persimmons allowed Central Point farmers Angela and Kreg Boudro to sell the fruit when local farmers markets are closed for the year. The couple sold dried persimmons last year through the online farmers market, Rogue Valley Local Foods, and at Medford Food Co-op.

A light harvest this year meant there weren't enough persimmons for the Boudros to sell, but they still have frozen fruit from last year. Unlike most fruits that require warmth to ripen, says Angela Boudro, persimmons actually need a cold snap.

"We've had years where they've frozen right on the tree," says Rey, explaining that the fruit isn't ruined by freezing but must be used immediately.

Hachiya persimmons from Rey's Green Ridge Farm will be available for 50 cents apiece through December at the Growers' Market in Grants Pass, indoors at Brighton Academy, on Northeast Seventh Street, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 21. Several other market vendors have persimmons, says Rey.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. McClatchy News Service contributed to this story.