The jujube, also known as the Chinese date, thrives in our Texas climate. It requires little care once established and lives a very long, productive life. So why is it so little known in our state and the country as a whole? To find the answer to that question we have to go back to the early 1900s when the first improved varieties were introduced to growers in the U.S. by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Frank N. Meyer, a plant explorer employed by the USDA, went to China in 1908 and started cataloging plants and trees that we did not have in this country. One such group of trees was the improved varieties of jujubes. Although the wild, very small fruited, jujube had been imported to the United States from Europe in the 1800s, it was not very good and of little value. These improved varieties were much better, and the USDA thought that they had a chance to become a great fruit for the Southwestern United States. Since they can grow on as little as 8 inches of rainfall a year, the thought was that they were ideal for many of the drier states, including Texas. By the mid 1920s, the USDA at Chico, California, (where the plant introduction station was located) had sent propagated jujube selections to Texas and Oklahoma. Here is where the problem with public acceptance came into play. They had released several varieties with little information on exactly what to do with the fruit. They just thought that all fruit was good to be eaten fresh off the tree when it ripened. The Chinese, on the other hand, had developed the improved jujubes for several purposes. The first and foremost was to make dried dates from the fruit. The varieties that were intended to make dried fruit were not very tasty for eating fresh. So you got a sweet but dry tasting fruit when picked fresh from the tree. What the USDA did not seem to know was that the Chinese did have jujube varieties that were very good for fresh eating but only one of these varieties was imported and distributed by the USDA. Most of the varieties introduced were for drying or other processing. So, the jujube got a bad rap (in today's lingo). The one variety that was intended by the Chinese as a multipurpose variety, including fresh eating, is 'Li'; but it is not the very best for the purpose. The better varieties for fresh eating were not imported by the USDA at all. The USDA at Chico did develop 'Chico' (or 'GI 7-62') in the 1950s that is good for fresh eating, but it was not in the original distribution and few people became aware it existed. It was not until the 1990s that the first batch of truly good tasting fresh eating jujube varieties were imported into the United States and then by a private individual. Since that time other good fresh eating varieties have been imported, including two that were released for sale in 2007. Now, with these new varieties, we have jujubes that should be considered by all gardeners in Texas because of several reasons - the first, of course, is the new varieties taste good; second, they take little care after the first couple of years; third, they do not require any sprays and can be grown organically; and, fourth, they do not take much water once established. With all this talk of taste, what do they taste like? The new fresh eating varieties taste like a very sweet apple when eaten fresh. Most people who taste these new varieties say that they taste great. Now, the varieties intended for drying taste very dry and mealy when eaten fresh (they just were not intended to be eaten fresh). When dried, jujubes truly have a taste very much like a date. The fruit, when processed into jujube butter, was rated better than apple butter by the people at Texas A&M, some years ago. There are many other products made from jujubes, including whole pickled jujubes (like pickled crab apples), smoked jujubes, honey or sugar jujubes and spirit jujubes. And the fresh fruit can be used in place of apples in any recipe. Just peel and remove the single seed inside to use in your apple recipes. I would suggest the use of the larger jujube varieties in place of apples - varieties like 'Li,' 'Shanxi Li' and 'Chico' ('GI-7-62'). They take less time to prepare. VARIETIES There are more than 700 varieties of jujubes in China. In the United States we have slightly more than 40 varieties currently. Several of the varieties in the U.S. have more than one name. The variety developed by the USDA in the 1950s was originally called 'GI 7-62,' referring to the place in the row of trees being tested. Fruit growers gave it the name 'Chico' in memory of the abandoned Fruit Introduction Station at Chico, California. Then, there is the 'Yu' variety that was renamed 'Silverhill' and renamed again as 'Tigertooth,' the name that is currently in use. 'Tigertooth' can be grown in areas that have high humidity (most jujubes like dry weather). The better varieties for fresh use are 'Honey Jar,' 'Sugar Cane,' 'Li,' 'Shanxi Li,' 'Sherwood' and 'Chico' ('G
A Fruit Well Adapted to Texas
The jujube, also known as the Chinese date, thrives in our Texas climate. It requires little care once established and lives a very long, productive life. So why is it so little known in our state and the country as a whole? To find the answer to that question we have to go back to the early 1900s when the first improved varieties were introduced to growers in the U.S. by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).