Tag Archives: fruit

Loquat – I’m Lovin’ It

27 Jun

 

I must apologise for my lack of serious blogging efforts of late.  The sudden rise in temperatures and humidity, rainy days, and my desperation to avoid all things World Cup have taken their toll.

I was planning to write about the loquat as soon as some got harvested at work, but it looked like the heavy rain had damaged much of the fruit and that the bulbuls, azure winged magpies and starlings were getting the rest…

… and then I arrived at work to find two bowls of loquats in the staffroom.

Fresh loquats. Not the “woolly” stalks on the fruit.

Yes!!

Ripe fruit on the tree.

 

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)) is believed to be native to sub-tropical China – the English name “loquat” is a corruption of the Cantonese “lo guat” – and brought to Japan over 1000 years ago.  It is a hardy broad-leafed evergreen, capable of withstanding winter temperatures of -10℃.

 

Known as biwa (枇杷) in Japanese, it is a fairly common garden tree, popular for its large dark green foliage, white flowers that bloom in the dead of winter, and sweet fruit in early summer.  The caveat is the number of years needed for the plant to bear fruit – we actually had one grown from seed in our garden, but it still didn’t fruit after seven years, and SWMBO decided it had to go.

Japanese folklore says “three years for peaches and chestnuts, eight for persimmons, and thirteen for loquats”.

 

The egg-shaped or round fruit itself is succulent and fairly sweet, but must be peeled (easily done with the fingers) and the large pips removed, which makes eating fresh fruit somewhat messy.

Up close and personal with the fruit.

Let’s split! This cutaway view shows how much has to be removed for the fruit to be eaten.

 

Canned loquats and loquats in jelly (yum!) are also popular.  Biwashu, loquat liqueur, is apparently easy to make, as is loquat jam.  (Furthermore, I am told that the best method is to make the loquat liqueur and then use those loquats the next year for jam).

 

Apparently, the leaves can be dried and used as a kind of tea, which is reputed to be good for skin conditions.

A leaf compared to my hand.

 

The wood of the loquat is light but hard, and has a long history in the manufacture of walking sticks and wooden swords.  Readers of the English translation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi may remember:

“Next!” shouted Kojirō, brandishing a long sword made of loquat wood.  At the beginning he had told them that a blow struck with a loquat sword “will rot your flesh to the bone.”

I have not been able to find any evidence of this assertion by the fictional version of Kojiro being true.  Incidentally, it is said that loquat was the real-life Musashi’s material of choice for his own wooden weapons.

I must admit to eying off loquat trees which might possibly be subject to felling or heavy pruning, with the intention of getting some wood for my own weapons…

 

Anyway, I am always pleased to receive free fresh fruit and have something worth writing about.

Out on a limb. Loquats on a tree.

Orange Crush

2 Mar

I see a orange
See a orange
Ooh, one or two

Orange Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Welcome to March and the official beginning of spring.  February 28 gave us an unseasonably high maximum of 18℃, and finally put paid to most of the remaining snow from that heavy fall over two weeks ago.  Double digit maximums will be more common from now on, but we can also expect gloomy rainy days and high winds.

What to write about?  Finding topics is often a challenge.  They don’t just pass across your desk at work.  Or do they?

Every month, we get a list of the next month’s school lunches, some nutritional information, and some facts or quasi-facts about some of the food items.  Most of this escapes my notice – I’m usually only interested in when “curry day” is that month – and that page soon finds its way to the recycle bin.  Only, this time, the section on seasonal food caught my attention.

Of the five items, one was something I encountered a couple of years ago but couldn’t photograph, one was part of an idea for a post that floated around inside my head before being shelved in development hell, one has made a single photographic appearance in this blog before, and the other two are orange.

[slight pause]

OK, a cursory look has persuaded me to look at the orange ones: the Kiyomi orange and the dekopon.

 

Before we begin it helps to remember that, even though the Japanese like to make a big fuss over how “natural” their diet is, most fruit and vegetables we eat are not products of nature, but of cross-breeding and cultivation.  (As an example, think of the humble carrot.  You probably eat the root and throw away the leaves and stalk.  In the case of early carrot varieties, people ate the leaves and threw away the root, which was often woody and not suitable for eating.)

The Kiyomi is a tangor, a cross between an orange and a mandarin (often confused with the closely related tangerine, from which the name comes: tangerine  × orange).

Incidentally, the orange itself is probably descended from the mandarin via natural and artificial hybridization, which makes for interesting reading of the “family tree”!

The Kiyomi demonstrates the desirable traits of its parents, having a mandarin-like flavour and an aroma similar to an orange, in addition to being seedless.

Kiyomi oranges. Photo from Wikipedia.

The Kiyomi holds the distinction of being Japan’s first tangor, created in 1949 at an agricultural research station in Shizuoka.  It takes its name (清見) from the nearby temple Seikenji (清見寺) and lagoon Kiyomigata (清見潟).

Naturally, tangor development didn’t end with the Kiyomi, which is also used as a basis for new varieties.  One of these is the dekapon (actually a brand name), otherwise known as the shiranui/shiranuhi (不知火).

The dekopon™ takes its name from the protrusion on the fruit – “deko” (凸) referring to a bump or lump – and its other parent fruit, the ponkan tangerine.

“So, which parent do you take after?” Here you can see the bump that gave rise to the brand name Dekopon. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

March 1st has been officially declared Dekopon Day, although most people don’t notice.

 

It’s still the season for catching colds, so I’m grateful when the fruit comes with my lunch.  And I’ll keep an eye out for the occasional tree in gardens.

False Strawberry Fields Forever

21 May

Riding home from work a little before sunset, and enjoying the recently-turned warm-on-a-regular-basis weather, I find myself passing through taro gardens, recently harvested and ready-to-be-harvested tea fields, and patches of roadside wood and devastation.

Tea harvester at sunset.

Before… woods on the roadside.

…and after. (Actually, it is immediately adjacent to the previous photo, but it should give you an idea of Japan’s appetite for construction)

On the opposite side of the minor road I’m using I spot a single red, err, spot.  Hoping that this is going to be worth my time, I slam on my brakes, spin around, and get ready to photograph.

I locate the red fruit.  It turns out to be a raspberry.  Oh, well.

A raspberry – not what I was looking for.

I was hoping it was something else.  Which I find about a week later, less than a kilometre away…

I know the Japanese name, just not the English name.

 

It has trefoil leaves like a strawberry.  It produces flowers like a strawberry.  It has red fruit growing on long stalks like a strawberry.  It is even related to a strawberry.  But it is not a strawberry.

 

Leaves, runners, fruit… but all is not as it seems…

 

The plant in question is known locally as hebiichigo (蛇苺), literally “snake strawberry”.  There doesn’t appear to be an English common name for Potentilla hebiichigo, although the names mock strawberry, Gurbir, Indian strawberry or false strawberry are applied to the closely related and very similar Potentilla indica.  The latter is known as yabuhebiichigo (藪蛇苺). 

The two are very difficult to distinguish without flowers – the former develops five-petaled flowers, while the latter produces flowers with six petals.

Hebiichigo tends to produce slightly rounder leaves that are lighter in colour, and it prefers more open areas.  So it is most likely that the plants on my commute are indica.

Live and learn.

 

The fruit here is large and slightly glossy, and the leaves a darker shade and slightly pointed. This plant is probably indica.

 

Taken at a different location, this plant has a smaller, duller fruit and rounder leaves (not visible here). Most likely, this is the hebiichigo.

 

Both of these plants have been the victims of nomenclature wars, and are sometimes found under the genus Duchesnea.

 

Another local folk name for the plant is dokuichigo (毒苺), literally “poison strawberry”, and there is a folk belief that the fruit of the plant is poisonous.  In fact, the fruit is not harmful at all, it apparently – I haven’t tested this – is merely lacking in taste.

Yet another folk name is kuchinawaichigo, in which the “kuchinawa” is an old name for snake – apparently it refers to a rotting rope.

The common name is related to a folk belief that snakes ate the fruit, or that they would lie in wait under to plant to attack small animals that came to feed on the fruit.

 

This is a fairly attractive plant, and it is sometimes cultivated for its bright yellow flowers as well as the red fruit.  It is also used in traditional folk medicine to treat fevers and haemorrhoids.

A workmate tells me that as a child she was given a treatment of false strawberries steeped in alcohol for eczema.

I have also found references to false strawberry liqueurs on the Internet.

Fruits of my labours

21 Oct

Autumn is well and truly here, and the cold, cold winter is just around the corner.  Leaves are changing colour in the mountains – most noticeably the reds of the maples and the yellow ginkgos.

Ginkgo leaf – official symbol of Tokyo Metropolis

An early Chinese import, the ginkgo is a popular street tree but also enjoys special status around shrines and temples.  It is also the official tree of Tokyo, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures (its leaf is part of the official Tokyo Prefectural symbol), as well as being the official tree of some 33 cities – including Tokorozawa – in addition to Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward and Nagoya’s Naka Ward, 20 towns and four villages.

I was first introduced to this tree during a high school biology field trip the Adelaide Botanical

Manhole cover in Tokorozawa showing city symbols, including ginkgo leaves

Gardens.  The Chinese maidenhair tree, as it was known to us, is a fossil tree with distinct male and female trees.

The Japanese name is icho, but it was known as ginkyo in older times.  The name icho is thought to derive from the Chinese yājiǎo (“duck foot”), a description of the shape of the leaf, while ginkyo is a possible reading of the characters (銀杏).  This can be confusing, as the name of the edible fruit kernel is, although written identically, pronounced “ginnan”.

The ginnan is indispensable in certain dishes, but obtaining them is laborious, mostly because the flesh of the ginkgo fruit, which must be removed, has a horrible smell.  So horrible that almost no animals eat it.  (The badger is said to be an exception)

“What’s that smell?” Ginkgo fruit rotting on the ground.  The flesh of the ginkgo fruit can iritate human skin, and must be removed from the nut.

Fruits that are important along the food chain include persimmons, pomegranates, chestnuts and Japanese horse chestnuts, and, of course, acorns.

pomegranates

Pomegranates in a garden near my house

Persimmons, or kaki (), are another early Chinese import, and are found in many suburban gardens.  My own garden boasts a sweet persimmon tree.  These were more important in days gone by and children had little access to sweets – many TV shows set in earlier times depict kids stealing from their neighbour’s persimmon tree.  A variation of this theme has the thief biting into the fruit only to discover that it is an astringentpersimmon.

Persimmons from my tree

Sweet and astringent persimmons – amagaki (甘柿) and shibugaki (渋柿) respectively – generally can be distinguished by sight – the most important sweet cultivars tend to be flat-ish and take on an almost square profile, while the most common astringent ones are more bulb-shaped.  This is only a rough guide, so beware of biting into an unidentified persimmon!  I’ve felt my tongue go numb from sinking my teeth into the wrong kind!

You may be thinking, “So why bother with astringent ones if you can’t eat them?”  Well, you can.  They can be treated with carbon dioxide, or soaked in shochu to remove the stringency.  But they are at their best as dried persimmons (hoshikaki – 干し柿).  The persimmons are peeled but the stalk left on, and hung up in a cool, dry place.  The winters of Eastern Japan are notoriously dry and quickly sap the moisture from the persimmon.  The result is a soft dried fruit with a pleasant taste.

Astringent persimmons also have uses in dyeing and paper.  The dye made from the fruit turns cloth a light brown colour, and it is also used to improve the water resistance of Japanese paper, particularly in umbrella making.

Persimmons are a favourite of birds, monkeys, deer, tanuki, wild pigs and bears.  Unfortunately, the ageing and depopulated country side means more persimmon trees are left unattended, attracting these animals into the small human settlements.  It is usually only a matter of time before a wild pig or a bear injures someone and the offending animal is killed.

The persimmon plays an important role in the children’s story The Feud of the Monkey and the Crabs.

 

Another seasonal favourite is the chestnut or kuri ().  This is a Japanese native, and hikers may be lucky enough to find one in the wild.  The nuts of the wild variety are small but sweet.  The husks are prickly and need to be handled with care.  Some people burn the husks to roast the nuts inside, although boiling and roasting over hot stones are the more common ways of cooking the nuts.  A popular autumn dish is kuri-gohan – chestnuts (with a few ginkgo nuts) boiled in white rice.

Unripened chestnut husks

Chestnuts with husk opening

The nuts are a favourite of wild pigs.

Chestnut in the open husk or urchin

The chestnut is one of the avenging characters in the afore-mentioned The Feud of the Monkey and the Crabs.

 

Next time – going nuts!

%d bloggers like this: