Each year the arrival of the jujube -- the small, date-like Chinese tree fruit -- surprises us. People have been growing it in the U.S. for almost a century now. It was once fruita obscura, treasured in Asian markets but not much elsewhere, as recently as five years ago. Now we add a new farmer to the list of happy growers each season, and last Sunday we actually overheard small children squeal in delight over them. The jujube is finally getting its day, in the U.S. anyway. The rest of the jujube growing world caught on 4,000 years ago.
The jujube looks and tastes like a date-flavored apple, more date-like as the fruit ripens and dries, and can be either dry and crunchy or pliably chewy although never really juicy. It's a Chinese transplant -- there are over 400 varieties grown in Asia, while we can only boast about 20 -- and ranges in size from a large marble up to a racquetball.
The vendor list grows. Now K&K Ranch (Hollywood, Torrance), Weiser Family Farms (Hollywood, Pasadena, Santa Monica), Burkart Organics (Hollywood), Moua Brothers (South Pasadena), and several others all sell them from now until the start of winter.
A funny thing happened on the way to California. When you have hundreds of varieties to choose from, you can be forgiven for not identifying exactly the right trees for the American market, where fresh eating is king. That's exactly what happened when early importers decided to share the jujube with the American market. Except the U.S. ended up with the varieties better suited for preservation -- gnarled and wrinkly little things that were completely unappreciated, and thus rejected.
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The kicker is that both the drying and fresh eating varieties of the jujube are very pleasant and can be eaten straight out of hand. The green and brown mottled fruit has an apple-esque dry crunch with a slight sweetness that's more cleansing than cloying. The dry, fully brown version is chewy and a little spongey, with concentrated sugars that mimic a fruity caramel. Most prefer the early, half-green-half-brown stage when the fruit is crisp and fresh, though given some counter time it will ripen and dry on its own. Jujubes are also very high in Vitamin C, which might be why it has been used for centuries to treat sore throats and colds.
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