These extraordinary wild fruits, harvested in the Zhejiang countryside, taste rather like pear or jujube, although of course they have proportionally less flesh to skin, to the skin seems thicker and more fibrous. The seeds form outside the fleshy fruit, as you can see in the pictures. Their Latin name is Hovenia Acerbis Lindl, which may be the same as Hovenia Dulcis, the oriental raising tree – see this Wikipedia entry. In Chinese, theyare called guai zao（拐枣), whose literal translation is apposite and charming: jujubes turning corners! A perfect description of their sweet, jujube-like flavour and strange, angular construction. I think they look like dancing horses or underfloor plumbing. According to Wikipedia, they taste like raisins when dried.
Chinese food culture, Foraging, Unusual delicacies / 5 Comments
I’m just back home after a week of intensive teaching and eating in Devon, where writer, designer, cook, photographer and restaurateur Alastair Hendy and I were running a food-writing course for the Arvon Foundation. We and thirteen students were let loose in Totleigh Barton, an ancient thatched house filled with books, with no television or radio and virtually no telephone or internet access. On all Arvon courses, lunches are provided by visiting staff, but dinners are cooked by whichever group of writers is in residence, and everyone fixes their own breakfast as and when they choose. Normally, the Arvon people provide recipe cards and suggested menus for the dinners, but with a food-writing group that included accomplished amateur and professional cooks… well, as you can imagine, we were largely left to our own devices, which meant that we feasted like kings for four days. Continue reading…
We picked over Whitstable beach, finding empty winkles and oyster shells calcified into heavy white reliquaries. And then between a couple of groynes there was a great green slick of seaweed, like wet fur on the beach. I recognised it immediately as the tai cai seaweed that is a speciality of Ningbo in eastern China, or at least a close relative, and its aroma, when I squeezed a handful of fronds, confirmed it. So we gathered a bagful, and took it back to London on the train, where it perfumed the air in the carriage with its irresistible, almost white-truffly smell, rich and savoury, like the promise of umami. In my kitchen, I rinsed out the sand and seashells in many changes of water, spun it in a lettuce spinner and then hung it out to dry overnight on linen tea-towels spread over a radiator. Continue reading…
On the Scottish island, a friend and I picked our way across slippery seaweed-strewn beaches, through bogs and heather bushes, and finally down a rocky cliff, to gather wild mussels, kilos and kilos of them. Back at the cottage, we cooked some of them marinieres, and used the rest in a kind of Italian pasta sauce (onion, tomatoes, herbs) which we ate with spaghetti. The orange mussels themselves were delicious, but many of them had tiny, tiny pearls embedded in their outer layers, which made them somewhat perilous to eat. I crunched one quite badly, and it ended up firmly embedded in one of my back teeth! It was horribly uncomfortable at first, but then settled down. The following day some of it came out, grittily, in some chewing gum, but I had to visit the dentist to make sure that it was completely clear. My London colleagues laughed at me for having such a ridiculous ailment (‘Doctor, Doctor, I have a pearl stuck in my tooth!).
Has anyone else had amusing eating-related mishaps? Live octopus tentacles stuck to their cheeks in Korea？Bones through their cheeks during enthusiastic chewing?
When I was a small child, I once swallowed a small, painted metal ‘gollywog’ pendant that I had been sent after saving up the tokens on pots of Robertsons jam. My parents took me to the hospital in Oxford, where I was X-rayed, and the X-rays showed a perfect little gollywog shape suspended somewhere in my abdomen! (I’ve always regretted that we didn’t keep a copy of the image.)