Sunday, July 31, 2011

OH, Ziziphus!

There is a fruit that I am have been in search of for some time now. I have planted seeds and they never germinated. I have finally located a tree and it is on its way to me. This is probably a fruit that many of you have never heard of, it has a common name of Jujube or Chinese Date.....but it is more fun to call it by its botanical name....Ziziphus. The full name is Ziziphus jujuba.
This uncommon fruit has a long history. It may of originated in China where they have been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and where there are over 400 cultivars. Though its precise natural distribution is uncertain due to extensive cultivation, it is thought to be in southern Asia, between Lebanon, Iran, Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, the Korean peninsula, as well as southern and central China. It is also seen a great deal in southeastern Europe though more than likely it was introduced there.

Photo courtesy of Papaya Tree Nursery.

I do not for the life of me understand why this fruit is not a commercial crop in more of the country. Let's see what makes them tick.
First off, there are not too many parts of the country they will not grow. Jujubes can put up with extremes at both ends of the thermometer, from 120 degrees in Summer to -22 degree cold snaps in Winter, without slowing down. Just to give you an idea of how wide this range really is, Jujubes have fruited in the Puget Sound and low Cascade regions of Washington State as well as in Pennsylvania, then going all the way down to northern Florida.
Jujubes should be given a warm, sunny location, but are otherwise relatively undemanding. Given adequate heat and sun, the trees will thrive without any special care.
It is a deciduous tree, meaning it drops its leaves in the Fall. It is considered a small tree to medium size tree, growing from about 15 feet to 30 feet depending on the cultivar. Though it has attained a height of 40 feet in some places in Florida.
The small, oval shaped leaves are 1-2 inches long and a shiny bright green. In the Fall, the leaves turn bright yellow before falling. There are usually two spines at the base of each leaf. Some spines may be hooked while others are long and dagger like. There are some thornless cultivars though.

The flowers are small and not very noticeable, as you can see above. They are white to greenish yellow and are somewhat fragrant. The flowering period extends over several months from late Spring into Summer. You need only one tree to produce fruit, cross pollination is not required.
Jujubes tolerate many types of soils, but prefer a sandy, well drained soil. They do less well in heavy, poorly drained soil. They are also able to grow in soils with high salt content or high alkalinity. A high pH.
Fertilizing is a snap. They appear to do well with little or no fertilization. A light application of a balanced 10-10-10 every two months during the growing season seems to speed growth along slightly, but if you happen to forget, this tree is very understanding.
Another one of the outstanding qualities of the Jujube tree is its tolerance of drought conditions. Regular watering, though, is important to assure a quality fruit crop.

The fruit is the real treat here. It is a drupe,(A fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone containing the seed) varying from round to elongate and from cherry size to plum size depending on the cultivar. Though they can be eaten raw, which is the form preferred by the Chinese, they are better candied or dried, very much like our dates. Fresh and raw, they taste somewhat like small, tart apples. They can even be left on the tree to dry, tree dried fruit stores indefinitely.

If picked green, Jujubes will not ripen. If you are interested in trying some of the fruit yourself, find a local Asian Supermarket, I can almost guarantee they will either have some fresh or at least some dried and candied.
The fruit is packed with all kinds of vitamins. Fresh, the amount of Vitamin C is higher than dried, but almost all other vitamins and nutrients will remain the same.
There are many cultural and culinary uses for Jujubes.
Substitute the dried Jujube whenever recipes call for raisins or dates. Dried Jujubes are a wonderful snack that can be prepared without the use of any preservative as is so commonly needed for other dried fruits.
In China, a wine is made from the fruit and is called Hong Zao Jiu.
The candied fruit can be made into syrup and used over pancakes and waffles.
In the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the jujube was often placed in the newlyweds' bedroom as a good luck charm for fertility.

I will even give you a recipe for a Jujube Cake I found.
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/2 cup butter
* 2 cups dried, minced jujube
* 1 cup water
Bring these to a boil then set aside to cool
* 2 cups wheat flour
* 1 teaspoonful soda
* 1/2 teaspoonful salt
Sift these together then add to the above mixture. Bake at 325°

Okay, if this hasn't been enough information for you to run right out and get yourself a tree then I don't......what? They don't seem to have any at your local big box store?
Hmm, that could be a problem.
I know!
Go to Jujube Fruit Tree They have some nice ones for sale. I am sure there are other places online, but I know and trust these folks.
So, at last, I will leave you with this little tidbit, Jujubes appear to have no serious disease, insect, or nematode pests, except for the Pocket Gopher, which appears to have a liking for the roots. I don't know about you, but I have neither seen nor heard of a Pocket Gopher, I guess they tend to stay hidden in their pockets!
In case you do more research and decide to get yourself a tree or three, I am getting the Cultivar "Li". This is suppose to be the easiest of the many cultivars to grow.
Happy Growing!

1 comment:

  1. Darren...nice tip; never heard of it. I'll have to find some samples to eat.