A few weeks ago, looking at my fruit-heavy jujube tree, I thought I’d pick a bag full and take them over to our friends Swarn and Nazar on the other side of town. Jujubes, a fruit native to Asia, are sort of a cross between apples and dates. In India they are called ber, in China they are called zao or tsai. Among other names are “Chinese dates” and “Indian dates.”
They bake up like apples (not as sweet), have pits, ripen to a dark reddish brown and then shrivel up and fall off the tree. Jujubes thus blanket my lawn in late summer, providing a feast greater than the neighborhood wildlife could ever enjoy. The tree is a little invasive and my gardener regularly mows down hoards of mini jujube trees sprouting up all over the yard. However its graceful branches are lovely and provide generous shade in the warm months, bearing fruit from August through early October. The fruit itself has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. High in vitamin C and antioxidants, jujubes are also known to help fight cancer cells, decrease anxiety and stress (slightly sedative) and help with insomnia.The ripe and shriveled jujubes are dried and used in cooking or ground to a powder for tea or tonics. For more information on medicinal uses of jujubes see:
Our Punjabi friends love them raw. Sometimes my hubby and I will chop them into our breakfast. I also make Jujube Crisp the same way you’d make apple crisp and this is exceptional. Jujubes can also be cooked in stews (although I have not tried this).
I put on my gardening gloves so I wouldn’t get pricked by the thorny branches and grabbed a paper grocery bag. Within 10 minutes the bag was full of jujubes in all stages of ripeness (they are edible whether green, mottled, or dark brown and shriveled up) and headed on over to our friends’ home 15 miles across town.
Luckily, Swarn was home and she welcomed me in, happy to see me and glad for the jujubes. We visited for a while and when I left it was with my arms full of almonds fresh from their almond orchard; having been harvested only the day before. They let the almonds dry out on the tree and then shake the trees so the nuts drop down. The leaves were still fresh and green. These were truly raw almonds, which are actually very hard to find these days..
Since September of 2007 all commercial almond growers in the US have been required by the USDA to sterilize their almonds either by steaming, irradiation with an ionization process, roasting or blanching them, or by treating them with the controversial propylene oxide (PPO). Most people don’t know this and buy “raw” almonds indiscriminately. You can only purchase truly raw almonds directly from small farmers and at farmers markets (or imported). If you buy commercially available “raw” almonds that are not organic, you should know they may have been chemically treated to sterilize them. Growers and sellers of almonds are not required to provide this information to consumers! The differences I have observed between “raw” and truly raw are flavor (truly raw taste more “almondy”) and soaked truly raw almonds take a little more effort to peel than soaked commercial “raw” almonds.
I have been enjoying these wonderful raw almonds for the last few weeks. Today I eyed the bag’s dwindling contents and thought I would shell them all because I used up the last of my soaked almonds in breakfast this morning. Soaking almonds releases their enzyme inhibitors allowing our bodies to better absorb the nutrients. From a yogic perspective, the skins are also astringent and should generally be avoided. To maintain a youthful glow, eat your raw almonds soaked and peeled! I like to keep a jar of water with whole almonds in the fridge so I always have some handy to peel for breakfast, a fruit smoothie, or homemade almond milk.
I poured the bag of almonds into a big bowl and began to shell them. The outer hulls easily pull off revealing the almond shell. Almonds are not really nuts, but seeds inside of shells (compare to peach or apricot seeds inside the fruit pits). The shells on these fresh almonds were not so hard that I needed a nutcracker; I could easily crack them between my hands and pluck out the almonds. I started out with nearly a gallon’s worth of whole unhulled almonds and netted barely one cup of nuts. The remaining bowl of hulls and shells went into the Vitamix where they were quickly ground up so as to meet their destiny in the compost pile.