Pick those desert dates while you can!

A NOTE BEFORE WE GET STARTED…
I want to apologize for not updating this blog in a timely manner… as if I wasn’t staying busy enough with our artisan coffee roasting business (www.texascoffeeroasters.net), our 13.5 year old cat was attacked on Sunday the 13th by a raccoon that was clearing out the rest of the fruit on the tree I’m writing about in this article.

She was an innocent passerby, and it chased her to the backdoor where it proceeded to do its best to chew off her precious little foot. Three nights at the vet, surgery to remove a compound broken leg bone and a toe, to hope that the completely dislodged foot joint stays uninfected and reconnects (it was sticking out of her skin) and to sew her back up in hopes of her crushed foot magically reforming… she’s been in a cast up to her hip since Monday of last week, and we find out tomorrow if her leg has to be amputated.

She’s been part of our family since she was 5 weeks old, and she’ll be 14 in April. That’s equal to 70 in human years. Please send good vibes to my sweet Romie and pardon my slacker blogging, plus I’m really struggling with this new format that was forced on us bloggers. ❤

A couple years ago, I discovered a tree in our yard that looked like a scraggly, old apricot that was in desperate need of some attention. I was so excited, I watered it every day for a couple weeks.

A couple thousand gallons of water later, healthy green leaves sprouted and I just knew we were well on the way to a bounty of fresh apricots.

Then, odd little not-apricot flowers appeared. They smelled so pretty, but they weren’t what normally preceded apricots. Maybe it was a different variety? Yes, it was different, alright.

When the fruit began to grow, I was certain it was not an apricot tree. I took pictures of the date-like fruit hanging from every branch, and went to social media for answers. Dates didn’t grow on trees like this one, that looked so gnarly until its leaves filled in. Dates grow in palm trees – date palm trees to be precise. This was not that.

In no time, I had the answer, thanks to my social media tribe: I had carefully watered a jujube tree, likely a very old jujube tree, and a very drought-tolerant tree, at that. Ziziphus jujuba, commonly called jujube, and also called red date, Chinese date and desert date… this tree is in the Buckhorn family and produces a wonderful little fruit that many of my friends have fond memories of eating straight from the tree.

After reviving the not-apricot tree, I patiently waited for the green fruit to turn the shiny reddish-brown color that indicated ripeness. The very day that I grabbed a stepladder and a basket and headed over to pick as many of the ripe and ready fruit as I could reach, I found that there was no fruit left on the branches. There was no fallen fruit on the ground. It all vanished overnight.

If you’ve read this column for a while, you might recall I told of a similar experience with a neighbor’s pear tree being completely stripped of its fruit when we were going to pick it. This very same phenomena happened to the jujube tree that very same night.

Jujube trees grow seemingly wild all over Fort Davis. In just about every abandoned yard, there’s a tree or two. A friend said that she thought the trees were popular in the 1920s, as many of the houses built around that time have jujube trees in the yardscape. Since there was no nursery around here back in the early 1900s, there’s a good chance that the trees were purchased bare root by mail order, or from traveling tree salesmen who visited the area.

Nowadays, you can plant them from little trees that shoot up next to the big ones, and you can buy seeds and saplings online. The two main varieties in this area are Lin and Lang, but there many different types of Jujube trees to choose from.

These hardy trees need a sunny location and some heat, and they will thrive with no special care. Don’t put them in the shade. They prefer sandy, well-drained soil – that’s why they do so well in Fort Davis. They’re drought tolerant, but regular watering will give you the best fruit crop. If you happen to have a tree or know of a tree you can pick from, know that the jujubes picked green will not ripen. You can store ripened fruits at room temperature for about a week, and you can eat them fresh, or use them in a variety of ways.

This year, I finally got to pick them before the critters stripped the tree, and I’m still not sure if I want to make a jujube cake, candied jujubes, jujube butter (like apple butter) or jujube syrup. I really like to eat them raw – they’re similar in texture and flavor to apples, shaped like dates with a date-like pit.

Candied Jujubes
Wash about 3 pounds dried jujubes; drain and prick each several times with a fork. In a kettle bring to a boil 5 cups water, 5-1/2 cups sugar, and 1 tablespoon corn starch. Add the jujubes and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Cool, cover, and chill overnight.

The next day bring syrup and jujubes to a boil and simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes. With a slotted spoon, lift jujubes from syrup and place slightly apart on rimmed pans. Dry in oven, or in sun for about 2 to 3 days. Check fruit frequently and turn fruit occasionally until the jujubes are like the dates ones sees in the market.

Jujube Syrup
Boil syrup remaining from the Candied Jujubes, uncovered, until reduced to about 2 cups. Use over pancakes and waffles. Store in the refrigerator.

Other uses: Substitute the dried jujube wherever 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.

2 thoughts on “Pick those desert dates while you can!

  1. OMG!!! I love dates, the kind you eat, lol. My grandfather had a date tree in his yard for so many years, I didn’t know what they were. All I know is I’d go and pick them right off the tree and eat them. They are delish, but then one of my great aunts would pick them and then preserve them, which made me made because when I’d see her car out in my grandpa’s yard I knew the dates would be gone, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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