Tuesday, July 21, 2020

It’s raining at the Presidio! Raining jujubes, that is.

The heirloom jujube tree in the courtyard was donated by Tucson’s prominent architect Fe Tom, a first generation Chinese-American who participated in the recreation of the Presidio. The tree is a reminder of the major cultural and economic contributions of the Chinese population in  the ‘Old Pueblo’ since the late 1800s.

Originating in southern Asia, jujubes have been cultivated in China for 4,000 years. They were brought into the southwestern US in the late 1800s. Jujubes (Ziziphus jujuba), also known as red dates or Chinese dates, belong to the Rhamnaceae family. They are thorny deciduous trees that can grow up to 30 or 40 feet.

They are excellent fruit trees for Tucson growing conditions, as they are highly drought, heat, and cold tolerant, as well as disease resistant. What is more, they thrive in marginally fertile, sandy soils with high salinity and alkalinity. Plants send out suckers from their roots, so when well watered, they can become invasive if left to their druthers. Fortunately, these suckers can be easily kept in check by cutting or mowing, or they can be dug up and replanted elsewhere, as new trees.

The fruits are drupes about one inch long. When immature they are green, and blush to mahogany as they ripen. At this stage they can be eaten fresh, right off the tree, as soon as they are sweet and juicy enough. Fruits contain a single kernel with two seeds. The fruit does not ripen all at once; it can be picked over the course of several weeks. Fresh jujubes are crisp and taste like small apples. Alternatively, they can be left to dry on the tree, in which case they turn dark red, shriveled and very sweet, like dates. At this stage it can be stored indefinitely.

There are many different varieties of jujubes. Most have smooth oblong fruit that clings to the tree until it dries. The Presidio jujube, however, has relatively large, bumpy, squarish fruit, many of which fall off the tree when they are still fresh and crisp. I chose to dry a batch of fallen fruit in the sun oven so we can store them throughout the year.

Jujubes are high in vitamin C and they are used medicinally in teas to soothe sore throats, and to relieve stress, as well as for myriad other properties they are purported to have: anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immunostimulant among them.

They are commonly eaten simply as snacks, added to warming winter soups, or used to make syrups and pastes.

As we eagerly await our beloved monsoon rains, we can take pleasure in another kind of rain that falls in the same season, jujube rain.

By Dena Cowan
Heritage Gardener and Foodways Instructor

196 N. Court Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85701
United States

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