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Fruits Are Very Popular: Part I
Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods
Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3) page(s): 7, 36 and 37
The Spring issue of 1996, namely Volume 3(1), did discuss a little about a dozen Chinese fruits and their symbolism. This early article in this magazine is available to all on the magazine's website. It points out that the Chinese adore fruits, sugared ones are popular at the Chinese New Year holiday they call 'Spring Festival' and that fruits symbolize life and wishes for new beginnings. They are also a wish for a sweet year.
This article begins in depth discussions of many of them. For the most part they are in alphabetical order in this and in future issues.
APPLES are fruits with meaning. This deciduous tree fruit, Malus domestica, symbolizes peace. At the New Year and when fresh, this fruit also symbolizes life and new beginnings. Called ping or ping guo in Chinese, their name in Chinese is a homonym for the word 'peace.' Apple blossoms stand for beauty, and a picture with a magnolia means the family and its house will be honored with riches and beauty.
There are more than seven thousand different known apple cultivars. Most ripen in late summer or early fall, and they did produce more than eighty million tons in 2013 alone. China did produce almost half of them, the United States was the second largest producer, and Turkey, Italy, India, and Poland did follow close behind.
Generally apple trees are propagated by grafting, though wild apples do grow from seed. Those on wild trees can be on them up to fifty feet in height. Their dwarf relatives are on trees about ten feet tall. Most apple trees are deciduous, climate clearly a factor. Their fruit when ripe are in a variety of colors, usually one or two depending upon how ripe they are; and they can be red, yellow, or green. Most apples are eaten raw, those not are prepared in a variety of ways, particularly as beverages or in sweet dishes such as in desserts.
These fruits are fragrant when ripe, have several seeds, and the Chinese believe they invigorate and promote vital energy known as qi. They believe they benefit the spleen, increase secretion of saliva, reduce or even stop vomiting or diarrhea, and help elders who are convalescing. These fruits contain carbohydrates as starches and sugars, have more sugars when ripe, and have many vitamins, acids, and esters.
For those suffering with indigestion, the Chinese recommend eating half-ripe fruit without its peel. They crush it, and squeeze out its juice and consume some several times a day. For those with low blood sugar, traditional Chinese practitioners encourage eating two apples every day. For those vomiting, they recommend several tablespoons of the skin of apples stir-fried with an equal amount of cooked rice along with some water that should be simmered. They say to drink it as if it were tea.
APRICOTS like many fruits, have many meanings whether served fresh, dried, and/or sweetened. Their seeds are served as are almonds, in soups or stews, and also served dried and ground and as a flour. The word for apricots have been found written on bamboo strips and on oracle bones from thousands of years ago. As fruits, apricots can mean a beautiful woman. When one of them appears on a painting near a lady, she is to represent beauty. Some think thay may have been the apple mentioned in the bible.
Called xing or wing guo in Chinese, like apples, they grow on deciduous trees but ones only thirty to thirty-five feet tall; they also grow on trees grafted on dwarf root stock. Clearly, then they produce dwarf trees about eight or ten feet tall.
Botanically known as Prunus armeniaca, apricots produce small round fruits that ripen in the fall. They can be yellow, orange, or blushed with red, and all have a kernel or bitter seed inside their sweet fruit. Their nature is neither hot nor cold.
The Chinese believe this fruit, when fresh, moistens the lungs, relieves asthma, promotes saliva production, quenches thirst, moistens the intestines, eases coughing, and invigorates a person’s qi or vital energy. They recommended apricots to those with a chronic cough, dysentery, hot flushes, fever, and general weakness, whether they are fresh or preserved. They also suggest they be given to those who are constipated. Should someone openly give a husband a red apricot, they can be telling him that his wife is having an affair outside of their marriage.
This fruit was taken by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty to Armenia during Zhang Qian’s mission there. The seeds are used there and by Chinese all over the world peeled in pastries and in soups. Fresh fruits are mostly eaten raw or sugared.
BANANAS: before their use as a fruit, were popular only for their fiber. When they did become popular as edibles, they were eaten raw and green or raw and ripe, or preserved in honey. Their leaves were popular for wrapping other foods before steaming them. Their leaves were said to be precious items, one of fourteen, to scholars. They were popular, too, on temple offering tables. Their fruits were wishes for education, brilliance at work and in school, and in thoughts related to these efforts.
Used early in Chinese cuisine, they were known as transplants to Xian about 111 BCE. About this time, they were found on altars as offerings following their use in nets and many coarse fabrics. In kitchens, bananas were used making flat breads and used in short and longer-cooked dishes.
Called xiang jiao by the Chinese, these fragrant broad-leafed plants were also known as gan jiao and gong jiao. The herbaceous plants they grow on are known to live for many years. They come up in successive seasons and their fruits turn from green to yellow when ripe. Cool in nature, bananas are rich in several sugars including fructose, glucose, and sucrose. They get sweeter the more ripe they are. When very ripe, the Chinese use them to ease constipation and to relieve hemorhoidal pain. They consume their ripe skins to reduce high blood pressure and reduce hangovers. heir ripe fruit is also recommended to those who gasp and cough a lot.
These Musa acuminat fruits, dwarf and full-size and their relatives such as plantains which are of hybrid origin, were not frequently cultivated in China, but now are. All of them are palm-like perennials with a pseudo-stem some eat. Some can have others not have seeds. Plantains are made edible by cooking, the recipe for candied apples above, can also be used to candy bananas. These fruits are also eaten as a gelatin, often and easily made with a flavor extract, as are mangoes and pineapples.
CHAYOTE are fruits also known as christophines. They are called zhun ren gua in Chinese, and probably originated in Mexico or another country in tropical America. They came to China in the early 1930s. Slightly resembling the Buddha Hand Citron without its fingers, botanically they are Sechium edule fruits and are light green in color. When young, they can be sliced through their large seed. That is something we almost always do, then cook them seed and all as a vegetable.
Climbers, these fruits have tuberous roots, and until recently, were rarely found in Asian or in western markets. They are fleshy, and rare is the cookbook that has a recipe for them. We have never seen them recommended to be eaten raw. They are not very sweet, but are particularly good in soups and in stir-fried dishes.
CHERRIES are mainly members of the subgenus Cereasus. They grow on trees or on shrubs, are small fruits with pits often referred to as stones, and most are sweet when ripe. There are some that are sour and mostly used cooked. The sweet cherry, often known as a 'wild cherry' is botanically a Prunus avium while the sour one is a Prunus cerasus or a Prunus pseudocerasus.
In Chinese, cherries can be called ying tao, han tao, or zhou tao. More of them are eaten fresh in eastern and northern parts of China than elsewhere in their country. Besides being eaten fresh, they are also used in Chinese religious ceremonies and made into a vinegar and alcoholic beverages. Different species of them are grown in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Western Asia, and in Australia.
There are other fruits in the Prunus family, namely apricots, peaches, plums, and almonds. The cherry is a very old fruit that was written about in the Book of Rites the Chinese call the Li Ji. One source we read said these particular fruits did not come west until 1819, but we disagree and have been unable to verify that.
In China, cherries are used fresh and in compotes, jellies, jams, preserves, and made into many a vinegar and there called a tincture. They are also preserved in honey or with lots of sugar. They can be pale yellow, red, or purplish-red or a combination of colors; and the Chinese consider them neither hot nor cold, just warm and wonderful.
Of Eurasian origin, these fruits ripen early. Most sweet ones come from Turkey, the United States, or Iran, while most sour cherries are grown in Turkey, Russia, and Poland. Chinese medical practitioners say these fruits thwart inflammations, relieve tiredness, reduce tingling pain from rheumatism, and decrease chills. Their seeds, which are often called their stones, are used crushed and simmered to relieve itching in those with with the measles.
COCONUTS grow on trees, too. They are fruits botanically known as Cocos nucifera. The Chinese call them yeh tzu, and they are members of the Arecaceae family. These palm tree relatives grow on very tall trees with few or no no branches. They have large leaves and fruit at the top, their frut sometimes called their meat. Their husks are hard shells best broken with a hammer. Their fruits within them are best cut out with a knife. When young, they do have water in them; it has a sweetish taste and many do drink it. It disappears, absorbed, as it ages.
Common in Hainan, the Philippines, and Indonesia, coconuts have only a few uses in Chinese cooking. When dried they can be called ‘copra,' their oil and milk used for cooking and frying. Coconut oil is very fatty and mostly a saturated oil. Both are used in cosmetics and when making soaps, the husks and leaves are used for furnishings and fabrics. They have cultural and religious significance, and medicinally, as is their fruit, used to treat skin eruptions, benefit urine, reduce vomiting, and for the elderly is said to benefit upcoming senility.
Neither warm nor cold, it contains no people poisons, is said not to be healthy for dogs, their hard shells or husks when simmered with water and cooked for a long time are used making an ointment-like item said to keep man’s skin healthy. They are popular candied and cooked in a super-saturated sugar solution on a very low light around the Spring Festival.
This fruit is not a true nut, its outer husk has lots of inedible fiber and one way to take out any liquid is to pierce two of the three eyes seen at its top. The tree itself has neither a tap root nor root hairs but does have roots that go deep into the soil. Its name translates to ‘Indian nut’ but it is not similar to any word in that country though called a nucifer in Latin, that is because it is said to be ‘nut-bearing.’
These fruits ripen in summer or fall, do reach inland locations with the intervention of people, and have considerable food value. They travel more than one hundred days by sea and then germinate in soil, their outside fiber protecting their hard shell and interior fruit. The Chinese say they reduce vomiting, and western practitioners say they have lots of glucose and fructose, many inorganic salts, and that they are popular baked in pastries.
Future issues will discuss other fruits following along in alphabetical order, and also have one recipe for each of them.
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