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Fruits are Very Popular: Part II
Fruits, Desserts, and Other Sweet Foods
Winter Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(4) page(s): 24 - 28
The Spring 1996 issue of Volume 3 discussed many fruits and some of their symbolism. This short article is on this magazine’s website and points out that the Chinese adore fruits, and love sugared ones for the New Year holiday called their ‘Spring Festival.’ During this season and most other times, they like them big, beautiful, and sugared. For the Spring festival, they are wishes for new beginnings and a sweet year.
The first part of this series of articles about fruit did begin Volume 23(3). it discusses apples, apricots, bananas, and chayote fruits in greater depth than the article in Volume
23. In this one, it continues exploring cherries, citrus fruits, and other fruits in alphabetic order. Future issues will continue, and as did the earlier issue, there will be one recipe for each fruit.
CHERRIES are small and round, each has a single pit often called its ‘stone.’ Most often, cherries grow on trees, though a few grow on shrubs. Botanically, sweet cherries are known as Prunus avium, sour cherries as Prunus pseudocerasus, and the Chinese call them ying tao, han tao, or zhu guo. They eat more of them in their east and north than elsewhere in China; and they use them in religious ceremonies and in many paintings.
But one fruit in the Prunus family, there are others some of which include apricots (already discussed in the previous issue), peaches, plums, and even several nuts including almonds. Many nuts will be discussed in an article just about these hard items that are fruits after the other articles about upcoming fruits.
Cherries are very, very old fruits. They were first written about in The Book of Rites which in Chinese is called Li Ji. One source advises they came to the west in 1819, though others say they did so much earlier than that.
In China, cherries are often used fresh, also in compotes, jellies, jams, and preserves; and preserved in honeys and with sugar. They are also used in vinegar often called ‘tinctures’ and in wines and other alcoholic beverages. In them, and in other items, they can be pale yellow, red, or purplish-red, or any combination thereof. Medicinally, the Chinese use them often and consider them warm and wonderful. They love them no matter how they use. them.
Cherries are said to be of Eurasian origin, and Chinese believe they thwart inflammation, relieve tiredness, reduce tingling pain from rheumatism, and decrease chills. Their seeds, they use crushed and simmered to aid those with measles and other skin eruption items.
CITRUS FRUITS include dozens of genus and specie items with rinds green, yellow, orange, pink, or any combinations thereof. Their flesh can be of similar or different colors. Most are in the genus Citrus., the most common there is Citrus sinensis or the common orange. Of these there are two popular ones, the sweet orange and the bitter orange. The former is in the species sinensis, the latter in the one better known as aurantium. The Chinese also adore clementines; they are in the species reticulata as is the mandarin orange. They also like and consume many in the species japonica or fortunella, as are some of the kumquats. Cross bred and hybridized, there are dozens of others including the less popular ‘Buddha’s Hand’ which many know as the ‘finger citron’ which is a Citrus medica variation sarcodactylis. Wikipedia lists several dozen citrus fruits with pictures of them. We suggest looking there; some may be familiar, others new to you.
Popular in Western countries is the blood orange, a hybrid that is one-quarter pommelo, three quarters mandarin orange. Some were written about in Chinese literature circa 314 BCE, others are hundreds if not a couple of thousand years newer. For example, the common lime is an oldie, the kaffir lime and the key lime are hystrix and aurantiifolia and lots newer. The lemon is an oldie, the Meyer lemon the newest of lemons and as a meyeri it is a hybrid while the ordinary lemon is not.
To the Chinese, oranges symbolizes a prayer or a wish for good fortune. That is why they are often a food offering to ancestors. The mandarin has a different and interesting role. After a wedding, a bride is given two oranges by her in-laws to peel the night of her wedding to share with her new husband. They are their wishes for a happy and full life together. In Cantonese, the word mandarin means gold, its wishes are very clear. To Buddhists, oranges symbolizes transformation, and why their monks wear orange or saffron-colored robes; they also symbolize happiness.
The Chinese adore many citrus fruits including the kumquat which closely resembles the orange and mandarin though smaller. Close to the size of a very big olive or grape, and is both sweet and sour. Its skin is sweet, its juice is sour, and Chinese eat this lucky fruit whole not peeled as it is like life, a mix of sweet and sour. There are many species, not all in the citrus family. Some are in fortunellas and there is a garcinia or Hong Kong kumquat which some call the mountain bamboo or shen zhu zi; it is said to be cool in nature.
One citrus fruit you may not know is kabosu in the species spaerocarpa. It is green on the outside, orange within, and closely resembles the yuzu lemon but is a bit larger. Another, in the paradisi family looking closer to its English name of an ‘ugly’ fruit, which it is.
The Chinese gave this fruit to the Japanese and now both use it to make vinegar. It is a flowering shrub or small tree with thorns and is harvested green. It ripens after being picked and is a hybrid of the bitter orange. Many love it because when mixed with food fed to fish, it does prevent a fishy aroma and any discoloration of the flesh of fish.
Rare is the food that is orange other than those in the citrus family, though there are ones known as saffron, turmeric, sweet potatoes, carrots, and the flesh of a Chinese pumpkin. Maybe that is why citrus fruits are so special for Chinese. Their skins, juice, and internal flesh are loved raw or ripe, loved cooked, too.
DATESdates are flowering species of date palms. They are widely cultivated, grow on trees seventy or so feet tall, and they have large fruit clumps with more than a hundred fruits in every cluster. Botanically known as Phoenix dactylifera or Zizyphus jujube, the Chinese call them hong zao; they love black dates, too.
Date palm trees can bear up to three hundred pounds of fruit in one season; are collected in several harvests, and they do cover them before they ripen so birds and other pests do not get their share. They can be oval or elongated fruits, bright yellow and they turn red, brown, or black depending upon the variety and ripeness. Dates used to be wind pollinated, but these days most are pollinated manually. One man can do up to one hundred female plants a day, and those with no seeds are small and of lower quality.
Mentioned more than fifty times in the Bible, more than twenty times in the Koran, their Arabic names are kimri, khal, rutab; and the tanr whe they are not ripe. They can be full-size and crunchy, full-size and soft, or sun-dried, ripe, and any size. There are records indicating dates can be fifty million years old. Male and female trees can be grown from seed, only the female bears fruit, and does so when four to ten years old or older.
Chinese TCM practitioners use them to treat blood disorders, nourish women after childbirth, those trying for weight loss, and they are for insomniacs, those with weak stomachs or spleens, or those with irritability during menopause. These fruits are effective tonics and used as snacks for the ill or elderly.
DRAGON FRUITS are more commonly known as longyan in Chinese, longan in English. See them in the issue with items beginning with ‘l’s.
DURIAN is the strongest smelling fruit we know. Some say they smell similar to a mix of sour cheese and turpentine, others less complementary call their aroma closer to vomit. To many, the smell is so offensive that in Singapore where they are popular, they are banned from public transportation and hotels with fines for those who break these laws.
Duri, the name for their thirty or so species, have exterior spikes, one third produce edible fruits with thorn-like protuberances, and most are Duri zibethinus. These are large and green, and they ripen brown, and can weigh seven or eight pounds each. One who loves them told us they are tastier when cooked with chicken and ham; and we do need to try them prepared that way.
Some call these fruits the ‘king of all fruits’ probably because of their size. Others say they garner appreciation because of their size. They grow on deciduous trees, their fruits the Chinese call liu lian or ci shao zi. Some have reddish-yellow scales, some give folks itchy skin after being touched no matter their color, be it tan, yellow, or brown.
In the Bombacaceae family, their flowers open only when dark, and these fruits are pollinated by bats and civets. Known six to eight thousand years ago, these fruits are full-bodied and creamy, and best after being frozen, then defrosted, as then they lose some of their strong aroma when defrosted.
Botanically known as Durio zibethinus, most are grown in China, imported to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and popular in both places. When sugared, people tell us they can be inferior so we suggest purchasing yours preserved with salt or after they were frozen.
FIGS are botanically known as Ficus carica, are grown on short trees or large shrubs. They have lobed leaves, and historians tell us they originally came to China from the Middle East or Western Asia. Though called a fruit, technically, they are ‘false fruits’ ans many kn0w them as druplets. Their green skin ripens to yellowish-purple or brown., and they do need a fig wasp to pollinate them. Fig trees bear fruit several times a year, climate willing, and most have two or more crops every year.
We once read that not all fig flowers need pollinating, but are not sure if that is true. They grow well in temperate climates, their fruit called ‘the world’s healthiest.’ The Chinese call them wu hua guo meaning flowerless fruit because their flowers are concealed. Some call them milk fruit or jiang guo because they have lots of fructose, glucose, citric and malic acids and because they are great for growth.
Sweet in taste and neutral in nature, they can also be yellow to purple, have a thick exterior, and get sweeter through summer and into the fall. TCM practitioners tell us they use them to treat indigestion, constipation in the elderly, coughs with little to no phlegm, weaknesses after tuberculosis, lack of milk after childbirth, chronic diarrhea, wounds that refuse to heal, and painful hemorrhoids that bleed.
These fruits are best boiled in hot water before drying them in the sun, or simmering them until they make a paste. Then one adds sugar and dries them with little or no artificial heat. In many countries, one finds figs on stone walls drying during most of the summer. They keep best if dried whole, better than when sliced, chopped, or cut up. Slow drying like that done on stone walls is best.
GINGKO BILOBA fruits are often called nuts and when dried they can be, but more often are used soft and as fruits. They are from ‘maiden hair’ fern trees widely cultivated and introduced in early history. Today, they are the only living species of this genus so named botanically. All others are extinct. The Leaves on their trees are two-lobed, their seeds not protected by an ovary wall. They smell awful when ripening, and an extract of their leaves are sold as a dietary supplement intended to enhance cognitive learning. But studies have yet to prove them effective as such. These seeds, also known as their nuts, are popular around the Chinese Spring Festival. People love them for both their texture and taste.
Many cook them for a long time in a congee or a soup. Some say they are aphrodisiacs, but all do not agree. Eating them in large quantities can cause an illness or poisoning, and some advise they can cause a contact dermatitis. If you have this problem, we suggest wearing gloves when handling them. If you do not feel well after eating them, do see a medical professional immediately.
The methyl pyridoxine (MPN) components in these items can are the cause. They can be destroyed by long cooking. A few still have a problem when eating them, so if new to you, eat only a few the first time, then do not eat any more if you experience stomach, irritation, or another problem and go see a doctor before ingesting any more of them.. Another word of warning, do not eat too many at any one time as there are reports of increased bleeding, gastrointestinal discomfort, nausea, headaches, etc.
There are reports that male leaves are highly allergenic so if you suspect a problems, do not touch them or cook with them. Leaves from female trees smell bad when their fruits (nuts) are ripening. If you want them on your property, male and female trees in the neighborhood can irritate you or your neighbors. Be aware that nowadays, many varieties are bred to have no strong aroma, so if buying them, check that before so doing, Also check your neighborhood because many are planted around or near temples.
They have many culinary uses, and are best cooked soft. Consult the web and Chinese cookery books for more information about them.
GOGI BERRIES were known as 'wolfberries.' They can be red or brown and raison-like, red when fresh. They used to come from Mongolia, the Himalayas, and Tibet, but now grown all over China, elsewhere in Asia, and in other countries. Called ningxia guoqi in Chinese, botanically they are known as Lycium chinense and closely related to boxthorn and nightshade family foods including potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, chili peppers, and tobacco. All are not native to Asia.
These bright-colored fruits are most often now known as Lycii fructus and are said to be ‘super fruits’ because they are very high in vitamin C. They did mostly grow in the Ningxia Autonomous region in north-central China and were supplied to the rest of the world in the past. Now the US and Canada are major suppliers, and they and the Chinese and Mongolians sell them fresh and dried. The Chinese use their leaves when fresh or dried to make tea and wine; and they add them to casseroles, soups, and many stir-fried dishes.
GOOSEBERRIES is the original name for a fruit we now know as the ‘kiwi.’ Loved in soups and sweet dishes, they were renamed in 1960, and now are said to be the national fruit of China. Some say they are the healthiest fruit in the world. That is because of their very high vitamin C. They are loved no matter their nutrient content, were only green but now yellow ones can be found.
Some are hairy, most are smooth, and both are called qi yi guo or o mei by the Chinese, In English in some countries, they are called the ‘Macaque peach.’ We know not why. This fruit has many vitamins, quite a few minerals, and some omega-three fatty acids. Popular in England and countries once part of the British Empire, botanically they are Ribes hirtellum or Grossularia hirtellum; in China many still call them Actinidia chinesis.
Popular when eaten fresh, cooked in soups, desserts, beverages, and made into jams, jellies, and preserves, they are best known in China where they grow and prosper. Not known throughout the country, we have seen them and eaten some raw in many places, but rarely is a recipe found in an old Chinese cookbook. Should you ever see one printed in one, please send us a copy.
GUAVA are fruits from a small tropical evergreen tree botanically called Psidium quajava. The Chinese call these fruits fan shi liu and eat them when their exteriors are yellow or green, their interiors yellow or pink. In English, their name can mean ‘foreign stone pomegranate’ or ‘foreign peach’ that the Chinese call fan tao. Traditional medical folk say these fruits can stop diarrhea, bleeding, and acute throat inflammations thanks to their sugars of glucose, fructose, and rhamnose, and theirs proteins, malic and citric acids, vitamin C, glucosides, tannins, and other constituents. Some use these fruits to heal sores on their legs or on their children’s heads, and they say they also help heal burns. Do not eat large amounts of them because these fruits can cause serious constipation
The Chinese like them ripe and mashed or cut up in meats, fish, beverages, sauces, as substitutes for tomatoes, and in jams, jellies, and preserves. They also like them in candies and juices, and as vegetables in casseroles.
Other fruits will follow in the next and in future issues. In addition, check the index for other fruit recipes in articles about other food items.
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