An Abun­dance of Sea­sonal Fruits

Au­tumn in Bei­jing brings a pleas­ant cool­ness and beau­ti­ful, golden scenery. Or­chards are bustling scenes; the trees laden with fruit, seem to call out to passers- by.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Qian Chui­jun Edited by David Ball

Au­tumn in Bei­jing co­in­cides with har­vest time, which not only brings a pleas­ant cool­ness, but also beau­ti­ful golden scenery. In Bei­jing, the or­chards are bustling; the trees laden with fruit, seem to call out to passersby. The crim­son pomegranat­es cast glances be­yond the branches; lan­tern-like per­sim­mons sway and dance in the wind; the sweet scent of sugar-roasted chest­nuts that cap­ti­vated schol­ars of the past and the present, would be a wel­come di­ver­sion from their work; and bois­ter­ous chil­dren hold on tightly to their can­died hawthorns as they skip hap­pily through the streets of the mil­len­nia-old cap­i­tal.

“When the moon is full on the fif­teenth day of the eighth lu­nar month, the fruit tray is filled to the brim with mel­ons, nuts and pomegranat­es.” The even­ing of Mid-au­tumn Fes­ti­val has long been an oc­ca­sion for fam­ily reunions. At this time of year, peo­ple cover the ta­ble with fruits and moon­cakes, peel open pomegranat­es, and open jars of can­died fruit, whilst recit­ing po­etry about the full moon and savour­ing the de­li­cious fruit be­neath the sil­ver moon­light.

Un­par­al­leled Fruit and Nuts

One line of po­etry writ­ten dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911) nicely cap­tures an au­tumn scene in Bei­jing: “The fra­grant chest­nuts are roast­ing in the bustling mar­ket, ac­cen­tu­at­ing the frosty chrysan­the­mum in the empty gar­dens.” In the cool au­tumn sea­son when the cold winds squall and the chrysan­the­mums bloom, sugar-roasted chest­nuts, that much cher­ished del­i­cacy amongst Bei­jingers, would ap­pear for sale; their dis­tinct aroma ac­com­pa­nied by the cries of hawk­ers. Sugar-roasted chest­nuts, along with roasted sweet po­ta­toes and can­died hawthorns, were once con­sid­ered the three most char­ac­ter­is­tic snacks in Bei­jing dur­ing au­tumn and win­ter, and are still deeply loved by Bei­jingers to­day.

China is the home­town of chest­nuts, whose long his­tory of cul­ti­va­tion dates back to the Western Zhou Dy­nasty (11th cen­tury–771 BC). In the Shi­jing (Book of Songs), it states: “On the moun­tains are the lac­quer trees, in the low wet grounds are the chest­nuts.” Kong Yinda, a scholar dur­ing the early-tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907), wrote an an­no­ta­tion to this line say­ing, “The chest­nuts grew out­side the east gate, be­tween the gar­dens or or­chards, mak­ing them bor­der trees.” In Zuozhuan (Master Zuo’s Com­men­tary on the Spring and Au­tumn An­nals) it is stated “Chest­nuts were planted by the road­side, so they must be shade trees.” These records in­di­cate that chest­nut trees were be­ing grown as bor­der or shade trees back then.

In the book, Lüshi chun­qiu (Lü’s Spring and Au­tumn Records), writ­ten dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC), it is recorded that, “There are three premium nuts, one of which is the Jis­han chest­nut.” The “Jis­han chest­nut” re­ferred to here is none other than those that cur­rently grow in the Yan­shan Moun­tains in 10 towns of Miyun County—hence its al­ter­na­tive name: “Yan­shan chest­nut.” Dur­ing the Three King­doms Pe­riod (AD 220–280), the writer Lu Ji said in one of his poems that “Chest­nuts are grown all over the coun­try… How­ever, those in Yuyang and Fanyang are un­ri­valled in taste.”yuyang is lo­cated in the south­west of Miyun County, prov­ing that chest­nuts have long been grown in the Yan­shan Moun­tains.

Chest­nuts are rich in nu­tri­ents and as such are known as the “king of nuts.” Su­gar­roasted chest­nuts ap­peared as far back as the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279). One pop­u­lar poem about this snack back then, went: “The chest­nuts roasted deep yel­low are served; over cups of wine I talked with my guest. By the third watch deep in the night, I heard ped­dlers hawk­ing their sugar roasted chest­nuts be­yond the gate.” Dur­ing the Liao Dy­nasty (AD 916–1125), the im­pe­rial clan built a liyuan (chest­nut or­chard) in the south­west of the South­ern Cap­i­tal (present­day Bei­jing). A ser­vant of Xiao Han, a scholar of the im­pe­rial academy in the Liao Dy­nasty, be­came an of­fi­cial in charge of liyuan dur­ing the Tonghe Pe­riod. When in­tro­duc­ing the method of how to roast chest­nuts to Em­peror Xing­zong, he said, “When roast­ing chest­nuts, the big­ger ones tend to be cooked only when the smaller ones are over­cooked, or even charred. It takes supreme tech­nique to cook both evenly.”

Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644), Yan­shan chest­nuts were used as the main of­fer­ing at the Im­pe­rial Mau­soleum. More than a dozen chest­nut or­chards and hazel­nut fac­to­ries were es­tab­lished in nearby coun­ties to pro­duce chest­nuts, wal­nuts and hazel­nuts. Yan­shan chest­nuts have al­ways been renowned as a hardy crop and have been ac­claimed for thou­sands of years for their high qual­ity and sweet taste.

In late au­tumn, the scent of freshly roasted chest­nuts would make its way through the streets, ap­peal­ing to passers-

by. Hao Yux­ing a scholar dur­ing the

Qing Dy­nasty wrote in Shaishutan­g bilu (“Records of the Book-sun­ning Stu­dio”): “When I first ar­rived in the cap­i­tal, I saw a large caul­dron placed over a stove at the en­trance to the mar­ket. One man tended to the fire whilst the other sat atop a high stool, reg­u­larly churn­ing the chest­nuts with a long spade, so that they could be evenly heated.” Hao of­fered a de­tailed and vivid ac­count of chest­nut roast­ing. How­ever, he failed to men­tion the se­cret to su­gar­roasted chest­nuts, which is molten sugar for flavour­ing and coarse sand to pro­vide an even heat, al­low­ing the roasted chest­nuts to be eas­ily shelled. Fucha Dun­chong, a scholar dur­ing the late Qing Dy­nasty, wrote in Jing­shi su­ishiji (“Sea­sonal Records of Bei­jing”) that, “In Oc­to­ber, chest­nuts, sweet po­ta­toes and other pro­duces go on sale. The chest­nuts roasted in black sand are ex­ceed­ingly sweet and palat­able. Read­ing un­der the oil lamp, I would shell a few dur­ing a break and savour the aroma.” The de­li­cious taste of roasted chest­nuts found favour not only with or­di­nary peo­ple, but also Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736–1795), who wrote two poems prais­ing them. One, en­ti­tled “Chest­nut Feast,” goes: “The big­ger ones are raw while the smaller ones are cooked; when they are cooked, the smaller ones are charred. They have to be evenly roasted, so tim­ing and reg­u­lar churn­ing are cru­cial.”

In the past, the “Gongyi Store” on Xi­dan Bei­da­jie of­fered premium sugar-roasted chest­nuts for sale. The boss of the store would have his staff pur­chase raw chest­nuts soon af­ter the White Dew (mid-au­tumn pe­riod). The chest­nuts col­lected would be care­fully sorted through and those that were overly small, dam­aged by in­sects or bro­ken would all be dis­carded. Only the well-pro­por­tioned, in­tact chest­nuts were kept, which were then roasted in a caul­dron. For old Bei­jingers, “Tong San Yi” was the most fa­mous store for buy­ing sugar-roasted chest­nuts and is said to have been ex­clu­sively ap­pointed to roast chest­nuts for the Qing Palace. Later, when Yuan Shikai (1859–1916, a war­lord and politi­cian) took con­trol of China, he specif­i­cally sent his ser­vants there to buy roasted chest­nuts to pam­per Lady Yang, his fifth con­cu­bine.

Pears are known as the “king of fruits” for their juici­ness, and sweet and sour taste. Na­tive to China, they ap­pear in the Book of Songs, which states, “There are baodi flow­ers on the hill­side, and shusui in the val­ley” ( shusui be­ing a va­ri­ety of wild pear). Pears have long been eaten by Chi­nese peo­ple and were known as mifu, kuaiguo, and yuru in an­cient times. There are many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of the fruit, each with its own char­ac­ter­is­tics de­pend­ing on where it grows, in­clud­ing Jing­bai pear and Laiyang pear in Shan­dong, Korla pear in Xin­jiang and Xueli pear in Tian­jin.

It was said that the mother of Wei Zheng, a prime min­is­ter dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, suf­fered from a per­sis­tent cough but shunned the bit­ter taste of Chi­nese medicine. Wei Zheng cre­ated a pear paste by adding pears and sugar to the medicine and fi­nally cured her cough. Em­peror Xuan­zong (AD 685–762) of the Tang Dy­nasty was a skilled mu­si­cian and loved singing and danc­ing who of­ten or­dered per­for­mances in a pear or­chard in the Im­pe­rial Gar­den. There­fore, the­atri­cal cir­cles grad­u­ally be­came known as the “Pear Gar­den.”

The most fa­mous pear grown in Bei­jing is the Jing­bai pear which is the only lo­cal va­ri­ety of fruit to con­tain the word “jing” (stand­ing for Bei­jing) in its name. In Dong­shan Vil­lage, Men­tougou Dis­trict, there is a leg­end that Jing­bai pears be­came a trib­ute dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. It is said that farm­ers from the vil­lage of­ten went to the Fra­grant Hill to sell their pears. Un­for­tu­nately, they were black­mailed by cor­rupt of­fi­cials and banned from re­turn­ing to the area. How­ever, when Em­peror Qian­long (reign: 1736–1795), who had of­ten trav­elled to the area and eaten Jing­bai pears, saw that there were no road­side ven­dors sell­ing the fruit, he felt very strange and so sent peo­ple to find out what had hap­pened. His emis­sary went all the way to Dong­shan Vil­lage where he dis­cov­ered the whole story. As such, Em­peror Qian­long or­dered that Jing­bai pears be made an im­pe­rial trib­ute. There are still more than 100 pear trees that are over 200 years old in Dong­shan Vil­lage, each bear­ing fruits with del­i­cate tex­ture, pleas­ant taste and unique flavour.

Sweet Hawthorns and Rare Lon­gans

Bei­jingers have a spe­cial fond­ness for hawthorns, as wit­nessed by the old say­ing: “Ju­jubes are for Au­gust, hawthorns are for Sep­tem­ber and chest­nuts are for Oc­to­ber.” Hawthorns are a Chi­nese spe­cialty which date back over 2,000 years. In the past, the fruit was known by var­i­ous names, in­clud­ing hong­gua, tangqi­uzi, shan­li­hong and hong­guo. Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, its name was fi­nalised by Li Shizhen as shanzha in the Ben­cao gangmu (Com­pen­dium of Ma­te­ria Med­ica).

Liu Zongyuan, a poet dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, once wrote a poem say­ing: “Vil­lage boys brought me bit­ter bam­boo shoots, and vul­gar fel­lows gave me sour hawthorns as gifts. Vil­lagers asked me to leave my house

on my crutches and at­tend their sim­ple feast.” Un­der his writ­ing brush, the hawthorn was put on par with bit­ter bam­boo shoots, in­di­cat­ing that they were eaten dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty. It should be noted that there are both sweet and sour va­ri­eties of hawthorns, how­ever the for­mer is rare, so Liu Zongyuan re­garded it as a coarse food. Dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty, can­died hawthorns first ap­peared. Mar­i­nat­ing orig­i­nated dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, when honey was used to soak fruit and veg­eta­bles in order to pre­serve them. The re­sult was “can­died fruit.”

“Hawthorns are sweet and crispy, and are served on skew­ers coated with sugar.” Dur­ing the South­ern Song Dy­nasty, can­died hawthorns first made their ap­pear­ance. Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, dur­ing the Shaoxi Pe­riod in the Song Dy­nasty, Em­peror Guang­zong (1127–1162) was at his wits' end when his most beloved con­cu­bine lost her ap­petite and steadily be­came ema­ci­ated be­cause of some strange dis­ease. At­tempts to treat her came to no avail and so the em­peror had no choice but to ad­ver­tise for a doc­tor. An itin­er­ant doc­tor an­swered the call and en­tered the palace. Af­ter tak­ing the pa­tient's pulse, he said that fif­teen hawthorns stewed in brown sugar be­fore every meal for half a month would cure her. Af­ter fol­low­ing the doc­tor's pre­scrip­tion, the em­peror's con­cu­bine was cured. Later, the crisp and sweet hawthorns made their way be­yond the palace walls and be­came a pop­u­lar snack among the peo­ple, who sold it on skew­ers in what is known as tanghulu. In Bei­jing, can­died hawthorns were called mi­danr (lit. honey ball) in the Song Dy­nasty, and later tang­duir (lit. sugar heap). The snack not only tastes good but also looks im­pres­sive. Crim­son hawthorns are im­paled on a bam­boo stick which is coated with a thick translu­cent syrup. They are in­stantly recog­nis­able even from a dis­tance, ap­pear­ing like trees heavy with fruit.

Dur­ing the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, hawthorns be­came widely ac­cepted across North China, where the bit­ter cold left few choices for veg­eta­bles and fruits. As one of the six ma­jor ar­eas for pro­duc­ing hawthorns in the coun­try, Bei­jing had a ready sup­ply of the fruit. Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, a lack of veg­eta­bles forced the im­pe­rial court to turn to can­died fruits. The high amount of honey used in­vari­ably made eat­ing them over the long-term quite a bore, and so crispy, sour hawthorns made an at­trac­tive al­ter­na­tive. In the book Di­jing su­ishi jisheng (Records of My Year in the Cap­i­tal), it is stated, “There are two va­ri­eties of hawthorn, one from Bei­jing and the other from else­where. The for­mer is small and sweet, while the lat­ter is big and sour, and thus can be made into cakes or flavoured with sugar. There are also can­died fruits sim­i­lar to hawthorns but which are much juicier and tastier.”

Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, the writer Song Yu gave a pic­to­rial de­scrip­tion of the lon­gan fruit in his work “Lon­gan Poem,” which went: “Be­low the golden rind there lies creamy flesh. The peeled fruit on a plate is like a lu­mi­nous bead.” The lon­gan usu­ally ripens in the eighth month of the lu­nar cal­en­dar. As this month was named “gui” in an­cient China, the fruit is also known as “guiyuan” (lit. gui round). Lon­gans grow in South China and can be found as far back as the Han Dy­nasty over 2,000 years ago.

Dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty, lon­gans were al­ready planted widely across Fu­jian Prov­ince. Ac­cord­ing to Xinghua fuzhi (“The An­nals of Xinghua Pre­fec­ture”), in the sec­ond year

af­ter Em­peror Huizong (reign: 1100–1135) of the North­ern Song Dy­nasty (AD 960 –1127) as­cended to the throne, the em­press fell ill and the im­pe­rial doc­tors could not help. It just so hap­pened that lon­gans sent from Xinghua (now Pu­tian in Fu­jian Prov­ince) as im­pe­rial tributes had ar­rived. The em­press took a few and presently her ap­petite re­turned. Af­ter a few more, she could swal­low and walk, and soon she had made a com­plete re­cov­ery. The over­joyed Em­peror Huizong be­stowed the name “guiyuan” on the fruit. By the Qing Dy­nasty, lon­gans had found favour with or­di­nary Bei­jingers and grad­u­ally made their way from China to In­dia and South Asia.

Abun­dant Ju­jubes and In­tox­i­cat­ing Grapes

The pe­riod around Mid-au­tumn Fes­ti­val is the sea­son when ju­jubes ripen. As the say­ing goes: “On July 15, red cir­cles form on ju­jubes as they ripen, and on Au­gust 15 they are har­vested.” Ju­jube trees are com­monly found in Bei­jing and have a long his­tory of cul­ti­va­tion, hav­ing been planted in the city as long as 3,000 years ago. The fruit is even recorded in Shiji ( Records of the Grand His­to­rian), where it says: “Yan (Bei­jing) has abun­dant re­sources of fish, salt and ju­jubes.”

China is the home of ju­jubes. As early as the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod (770–446 BC) and the War­ring States Pe­riod, ju­jube trees were be­ing grown in the Yel­low River Basin, and in the Qin (221–206 BC) and Han (206 BC–AD 220) dy­nas­ties, they were widely cul­ti­vated through­out the coun­try. The ear­li­est ju­jube trees pro­duced “ji,” a wild sour date. In the “Odes of Qin” sec­tion of the Book of Songs, it is writ­ten “They flit about, the yel­low birds, and rest upon the ju­jube trees.” And in the “Odes of Bin” one verse states “In the eighth (month), they knock down the ju­jubes.” Dur­ing the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod, Zichan took up of­fice in the State of Zheng, em­pha­sis­ing the rule of law. He is said to have “erad­i­cated thiev­ery in five years; the roads lined with peach and ju­jube trees, yet none of the fruit was stolen.” This shows that back then, ju­jube trees grew through­out the cap­i­tal of Zheng but the peo­ple did not pick any.” Zhanguo ce (Stratagems of War­ring States) records: “The North boasts abun­dant ju­jubes and chest­nuts. The peo­ple do not till their land to make a liv­ing, yet they are suf­fi­ciently pro­vided for, thanks to the boun­ti­ful ju­jubes and chest­nuts. It is truly a land of abun­dance.” This means that dur­ing the War­ring States Pe­riod, the peo­ple around present-day Bei­jing could get by on just ju­jubes and chest­nuts even in lean years.

The ju­jube tree is sur­pris­ingly adapt­able, as can be seen from the folk say­ing of “there's no such thing as too much wa­ter for chest­nuts or too much sun for ju­jubes.” Among farm­ers there is also a say­ing that goes “peach trees yield in three years, apri­cot trees in four, pear trees in five, whilst ju­jube trees yield the year they are planted.” For this rea­son, gov­ern­ments in China have al­ways highly val­ued the cul­ti­va­tion of ju­jube trees. Dur­ing the Ming and Qing Dy­nas­ties, they were planted so widely across Bei­jing that they be­came the main species in the hu­tong al­ley­ways, si­heyuan court­yard houses and sur­round­ing vil­lages. Dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, Bei­jing was hit by two se­vere cold pe­ri­ods which wiped out a large num­ber of the trees. There­fore, the im­pe­rial court or­dered the mil­i­tary com­man­der of Dax­ing, Wan­ping County and five cities to pro­vide ju­jube trees for the cap­i­tal. In Yan­jing ji­uwenlu (Record of Sto­ries in Yan­jing), one story states: “In the years of Qian­long, a man was taken into cus­tody for se­cretly cut­ting down ju­jube trees along the im­pe­rial thor­ough­fare for fire­wood. He was caned twenty times and or­dered to pay a fine of 30 taels of sil­ver and plant 100 ju­jube trees.”

As one of the main cul­ti­va­tion cen­tres of ju­jubes in China, Bei­jing is home to white ju­jubes, sour ju­jubes, seed­less ju­jubes and other va­ri­eties with a his­tory of over a thou­sand years, as well as the ex­tremely fa­mous Miyun ju­jube. In Wangzhuang Vil­lage, Nankou Town, Chang­ping Dis­trict, there is a ver­i­ta­ble “sour ju­jube king tree” which stands 14 m tall. The an­cient ju­jube tree in Wen Tianx­i­ang Tem­ple in Fuxue Hu­tong, Dongcheng Dis­trict is said to have been per­son­ally planted by Wen Tianx­i­ang, the fa­mous pa­triot who lived dur­ing the South­ern Song Dy­nasty. The trunk leans south­ward, coin­cid­ing with Wen's unswerv­ing loy­alty to his mother­land, as de­picted in the verse “My heart is al­ways yearn­ing for my mother­land, like the nee­dle of a com­pass” from his poem “Yangtze River.”

Grapes (putao) are a pop­u­lar fruit in China, and are also known as cao­longzhu and shan­hulu. To­gether with ap­ples, or­anges and ba­nanas, they are known as the “world's four ma­jor fruits.” Hav­ing orig­i­nated along the coast of the Black Sea and Mediter­ranean, grapes spread to the Cau­ca­sus and Iraq only 7,000 years ago. The ear­li­est writ­ten record about the fruit in China can be found in the

Book of Songs, which says “In the sixth month they eat the spar­row-plums and ao grapes.” Here “ao” is a va­ri­ety of wild grape.

By the Spring and Au­tumn Pe­riod, grapes from Europe had reached the Western Re­gions, but the pres­ence of the Huns and no­madic tribes pre­vented them spread­ing to the Cen­tral Plains. Dur­ing the Han Dy­nasty, Em­peror Wu sent Zhang Qian on a mis­sion to the Western Re­gions to elim­i­nate the in­flu­ence of the Huns. On his way there, Zhang learned a lot about the lo­cal cus­toms, and the abun­dant fruit va­ri­eties and crops piqued his in­ter­est. In­trigued by the fresh grapes in the State of Dayuan, he took a bite, and could not help but praise the suc­cu­lent fruit. Af­ter re­turn­ing to China, he sub­mit­ted a re­port about Dayuan and Dayuezhi to Em­peror Wu. From then on, con­tact be­tween the Han Dy­nasty and the Western Re­gions be­came closer.

In the Records of the Grand His­to­rian it states, “In Dayuan, grapes are used in brew­ing. Rich house­holds keep 10,000 dan of the liquor” (one dan is equal to 100 litres). Li Shizhen also wrote about the fruit in Com­pen­dium of Ma­te­ria Med­ica, say­ing, “Grapes can be used to make wine, which can be in­tox­i­cat­ing. Hence its name.” The two char­ac­ters that make up the Chi­nese word putao (grapes) mean “meet to drink so­cially” and “drunk­en­ness,” re­spec­tively.

Known as the “Tur­pan of South­ern Bei­jing,” Caiyu Town in Bei­jing's Dax­ing Dis­trict is fa­mous for pro­duc­ing grapes of good qual­ity, high sugar con­tent, even shape and good taste. The re­gion is a pri­mary grape pro­duc­ing area in sub­ur­ban Bei­jing, where the fruit has been grown for over 100 years. Its rose-scented grape vine­yards are es­pe­cially worth men­tion­ing. Cov­er­ing an area of 100 mu (one mu is equal to 0.067 hectares), it is the largest vine­yard of its kind in Bei­jing, and pro­duces well-pro­por­tioned, sweet fruit.

Lucky Per­sim­mons and Ver­sa­tile Wal­nuts

“All things re­tire as au­tumn makes way to win­ter, ex­cept for the per­sim­mons hang­ing from the trees like lanterns. I won­der why they haven't been picked; I'm told that the frost makes them ex­ceed­ingly sweet.” In late au­tumn, the tall per­sim­mon trees in the gar­dens, streets and court­yards of Bei­jing are strain­ing un­der the weight of the fruit hang­ing from their branches. The lantern­like fruits add a poetic touch to the city in the au­tumn sea­son.

China has a long his­tory of per­sim­mon cul­ti­va­tion, with the fruit first ap­pear­ing in Xi'an. Dur­ing the Shang (16th cen­tury–11th cen­tury BC) and Zhou dy­nas­ties, peo­ple learned how to re­move the as­trin­gency from per­sim­mons when col­lect­ing them in the wild, af­ter which, the fruit be­came more palat­able. To make the fruit eas­ily avail­able, peo­ple planted per­sim­mon trees in their gar­dens as ex­otic plants. Ac­cord­ing to the Liji (Book of Rites), per­sim­mons were a del­i­cacy re­served for the monarch. Em­peror Jian­wen of the Liang dy­nasty praised the fruit as “sweet, crispy, suc­cu­lent and tasty.” The Qimin yaoshu (Es­sen­tial Tech­niques for the Wel­fare of the Peo­ple) states: “Per­sim­mons are usu­ally planted as seedlings. If no seed­ing is avail­able, ten­der shoots are grafted to ju­jube stocks, just like when graft­ing pears.” The mas­tery of per­sim­mon graft­ing also con­trib­uted to an ex­pan­sion in the scale of per­sim­mon pro­duc­tion.

Dur­ing the Tang and Song dy­nas­ties, per­sim­mons grad­u­ally be­came recog­nised for their ad­van­tages. In Youyang zazu (Mis­cel­la­nies of Youyang) Duan Cheng­shi sum­marised the seven ad­van­tages of per­sim­mon trees, say­ing, “Per­sim­mon trees have seven big ad­van­tages. First, they have a long life­span. Sec­ond, they cre­ate plenty

of shade. Third, they do not in­vite nest­ing by birds. Fourth, they are im­mune from worms. Fifth, their leaves can han­dle frost. Sixth, they are pro­duc­tive. Seventh, they have leaves large enough for use in cal­lig­ra­phy prac­tice.” These many fea­tures meant that the trees be­gan to be cul­ti­vated more widely. Poet Han Yu once wrote, “In­vited by a friend to the tem­ple, I found my­self in a sea of red leaves.” Ma Yongqing wrote dur­ing the South­ern Song Dy­nasty that “In vis­its to vil­lages in Shaanxi dur­ing my ten­ure there, I of­ten saw per­mis­sion trees ex­tend­ing for miles and miles.” From those poems we can see the sheer scale of per­sim­mon plant­ing.

The late-yuan Dy­nasty (1271–1368) and the early-ming Dy­nasty wit­nessed fre­quent nat­u­ral dis­as­ters; and so fresh and dried per­sim­mons were eaten to stave off hunger. It is said that Zhu Yuanzhang, found­ing em­peror of the Ming Dy­nasty, had eaten per­sim­mons be­fore he be­came em­peror, and the ex­pe­ri­ence greatly in­flu­enced his poli­cies. Due to the gov­ern­ment's ad­vo­cacy, per­sim­mons were then grown in al­most all house­holds in the moun­tain­ous north­ern ar­eas which were prone to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters.

Zhang Zhong­shu, a poet dur­ing the North­ern Song Dy­nasty, once praised per­sim­mons in a poem: “More fra­grant than the buds of Hualin Gar­den, boast­ing the crim­son of plums cooled in fresh spring, the suc­cu­lent flesh wrapped in a crim­son waxy peel is un­ri­valled by nec­tar.” Per­sim­mons gen­er­ally ripen af­ter the first frost; the thin peel, sweet taste and juici­ness mak­ing them ex­ceed­ingly ap­peal­ing. The fruit is sweet and juicy when eaten raw, and takes on ad­di­tional flavours af­ter dry­ing. Usu­ally, larger per­sim­mons are peeled and placed in the sun for 10 days to half a month and then used to make flat per­sim­mon cake when they are fully dried. Prop­erly dried per­sim­mon cakes are cov­ered in a thin layer of hoar­frost, also known as “per­sim­mon frost­ing.”

The Chi­nese words for “per­sim­mon” (shi) and “mat­ter/thing” (shi) are homony­mous in Chi­nese. As such, peo­ple dur­ing an­cient times con­nected the fruit with aus­pi­cious say­ings such as: “ev­ery­thing as one wishes” (shishi ruyi) and “ev­ery­thing go­ing smoothly” (shishi an­shun). For ex­am­ple, a tra­di­tional Han lucky pat­tern con­sists of two per­sim­mons and a ruyi (an s-shaped or­na­men­tal ob­ject). Per­sim­mon trees can grow up to 20 m in height, how­ever they also make ideal pot­ted plants and of­ten fea­ture around fes­ti­vals, birthdays and spe­cial cel­e­bra­tions, as they are in­tended to ex­press wishes for good luck.

Wal­nuts, gen­er­ally called hetao in mod­ern Chi­nese, are also known as qiang­tao, wan­suizi or chang­shouguo. Ac­cord­ing to Mingyu bielu (Sup­ple­men­tary Record of Fa­mous Doc­tors), “The nut comes from Qianghu. Its seeds were brought to Shaanxi by Zhang Qian af­ter he re­turned from a mis­sion to the Western Re­gions dur­ing the Western Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD 24) and then grad­u­ally spread east.” In an­cient times, Qianghu in­cluded present­day South Asia and Eastern Europe as well as Xin­jiang, Gansu and other do­mes­tic re­gions. When Zhang Qian in­tro­duced it to the Cen­tral Plains, he named it “hutao.” In 319 AD, Shi Le, a gen­eral from the State of Jin, seized the Cen­tral Plains and founded the Lat­ter Zhao Dy­nasty (AD 319–352). How­ever, he found the word “hu” ob­nox­ious and so changed “hutao” to “hetao,” which is the name still used nowa­days. Through­out his­tory there have been many anec­dotes about the nut. For ex­am­ple, the Taip­ing yu­lan (Read­ings of the Taip­ing Era) records that dur­ing the Jin Dy­nasty (AD 265–420), Han Yue the Grand Tu­tor once asked the em­peror to give him a few wal­nuts, so that he might grow them in his home­town af­ter he re­tired.

Aside from those used for food, there are over 100 other va­ri­eties of wal­nuts of vary­ing sizes. Larger ones with thick shells, grotesque shapes and beau­ti­ful pat­terns are par­tic­u­larly cher­ished, be­cause they can be used as “hand ther­apy wal­nuts” (two wal­nuts ro­tated in the palm of one hand) or for wal­nut carv­ing. “Hand ther­apy wal­nuts” were for­merly called “hand mas­sag­ing wal­nuts” in an­cient times. Orig­i­nat­ing in the Han and Sui dy­nas­ties (AD 581–618), they then be­came pop­u­lar dur­ing the Tang and Song dy­nas­ties and pre­vailed in the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, when wal­nut hand-ex­er­cises were most fash­ion­able in Bei­jing. Em­peror Tianqi of the Ming Dy­nasty not only found it im­pos­si­ble to tear him­self away from his wal­nuts, he also took to carv­ing them him­self. There­fore, a ru­mour spread of “the em­peror for­get­ting about the state and in­stead carv­ing wal­nuts.” Em­peror Qian­long of the Qing Dy­nasty was also a con­nois­seur of wal­nuts. He was said to have writ­ten a rhap­sody about wal­nuts, say­ing, “One can­not get more plea­sure than from turn­ing wal­nuts in the palm of one's hand.”

Famed Chi­nese Pomegranat­es

There was a pop­u­lar say­ing in old Bei­jing that went “awn­ings, fish ponds, pomegranat­e trees,” used to de­scribe the dis­tinct land­scape of si­heyuan court­yard homes in Bei­jing. In old times, most of the rich and fa­mous had pomegranat­e trees in their res­i­dences. These trees can grow either in pots or be planted in the ground, de­pend­ing on the lay­out and size of the court­yard, be­tween which would be small fish ponds. In the height of sum­mer, peo­ple would love noth­ing more than to take a leisurely walk among the pomegranat­e trees and fish ponds pro­tected from the scorch­ing sun by the awn­ings.

Na­tive to Per­sia (present-day Iran), pomegranat­es were in­tro­duced to China

dur­ing the Han Dy­nasty. In the Bowuzhi (Records of Di­verse Mat­ters) writ­ten dur­ing the Jin Dy­nasty by Zhang Hua, one story says: “On his mis­sion to the Western Re­gions, Zhang Qian brought back pomegranat­e seeds from the An­shi State in Tulin. There­fore, the fruit was named An­shi Pomegranat­e.” When Zhang Qian reached An­shi State, he found the re­gion to be suf­fer­ing from drought, with parched land. Even the pomegranat­e trees in the Im­pe­rial Gar­den were dy­ing. There­fore, Zhang Qian shared with lo­cals the knowl­edge of the Han Dy­nasty in build­ing wa­ter conservanc­y projects, which saved a batch of the crops and the pomegranat­e trees there. When he re­turned home, Zhang Qian also brought some pomegranat­e seeds back with him. From that time on, pomegranat­es have grown in Shanglin Gar­den and in the foothills of Mount Lis­han in Chang'an.

“Pomegranat­e trees are a won­der of the world, bear­ing fa­mous fruits,” the writer Pan Yue wrote in An­shiliu fu (”Pomegranat­e Rhap­sody'') dur­ing the Western Jin Dy­nasty (AD 265–316). Dur­ing the South­ern and North­ern Dy­nas­ties (AD 429–581), He Sizheng left be­hind the lines “Wind sweeps across the Grape Belt, and the sun shines on the pomegranat­e dress,” us­ing the fruit to al­lude to the woman he loved. At that time, pomegranat­es were con­sid­ered aus­pi­cious, sym­bol­is­ing fa­mil­ial pros­per­ity and bless­ings, as ev­i­dent in the say­ing “Thou­sands of cham­bers un­der the same mem­brane, and one thou­sand iden­ti­cal seeds.” In the North­ern Qi Dy­nasty (AD 550–577), when Gao Yan­zong (also known as Prince Ande) took Li Zu's daugh­ter as his con­cu­bine, Em­peror Wenx­uan, paid her fam­ily a visit. He was given two pomegranat­es by the mis­tress. Em­peror Wenx­uan was baf­fled. Wei Shou, the prince's tu­tor, ex­plained that: “Pomegranat­es con­tain mul­ti­ple seeds. The prince's in-laws are wish­ing him fer­til­ity and pos­ter­ity with two pomegranat­es.” The em­peror be­came very happy on hear­ing this. Since then, the cus­tom of giv­ing pomegranat­es to new­ly­weds was es­tab­lished in China.

In the Tang Dy­nasty, the cus­tom of pre­sent­ing pomegranat­es at wed­dings be­came pop­u­lar. In the Song Dy­nasty, the num­ber of seeds in the pomegranat­e was counted to fore­tell the num­ber of suc­cess­ful can­di­dates in the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion. Over time, the phrase “pomegranat­es in­di­cate suc­cess in the im­pe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion” spread far and wide, as a to­ken of good wishes. Dur­ing the Ming and Qing Dy­nas­ties, a cus­tom emerged whereby “pomegranat­es and moon­cakes would be sac­ri­ficed to im­mor­tals on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lu­nar cal­en­dar,” as the fruit came into sea­son around the Mid-au­tumn Fes­ti­val.

Pomegranat­es have been cul­ti­vated in Bei­jing for 1,000 years. In 2015, a group of Liao Dy­nasty tombs was dis­cov­ered in San­hezhuang Vil­lage, Huang­cun Town, Dax­ing Dis­trict. In­side, a mu­ral fea­tur­ing pomegranat­es was found. In the cen­tre of the

pic­ture, there is a bowl filled with the fruit, prov­ing that they were present in the cap­i­tal nearly 1,000 years ago. Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, pomegranat­es trees planted by the Hui peo­ple near Dadu (now Bei­jing) formed a street. First called by the lo­cal res­i­dents as “Shiliu Street,” and then “Liu Street,” its name later evolved to the present-day “Niu Street.”

Dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty, pomegranat­e cul­ti­va­tion in­creased in Bei­jing. By the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (1654–1722) in the Qing Dy­nasty, the fruit could be found all over the city. Shili­uzhuang (lit. Pomegranat­e Vil­lage) out­side Yongding Gate is the old­est pomegranat­e or­chard in Bei­jing. Its de­scrip­tion in an epi­taph dat­ing from the Ji­a­jing Reign in the Ming Dy­nasty ac­cords with the lo­ca­tion and name of present-day Shili­uzhuang in Feng­tai Dis­trict. Em­press Dowa­ger Xiaozhuang, the grand­mother of Em­peror Kangxi, was es­pe­cially fond of pomegranat­es. There­fore, af­ter he ac­ceded to the throne, Em­peror Kangxi would per­son­ally pick a few large, red pomegranat­es as a gift to her, as a to­ken of fil­ial piety. In ad­di­tion, he se­lected a spe­cial plot in the Changchun Gar­den where he had dozens of pomegranat­e trees planted, mostly the top “three-white” va­ri­ety.

Pomegranat­es are also closely re­lated to Chi­nese cloth­ing cul­ture. In Wuqi qu (“To the Tune of Set­ting Sun”), Em­peror Yuan of Liang wrote in the South­ern Dy­nasty (AD 420–589) of a “pomegranat­e skirt with a hi­bis­cus belt.” Em­press Wu Ze­tian also left the fa­mous verse, “My tears over no mes­sage from you soaked my pomegranat­e dress; you may open the case and see for your­self.” Dur­ing an­cient times, women en­joyed to wear­ing skirts coloured “pomegranat­e red” with pig­ments ex­tracted from the flow­ers of the fruit. For that rea­son, red skirts also be­came known as “pomegranat­e skirts.” Over time, this item of cloth­ing be­came syn­ony­mous with young woman in an­cient times.

Pomegranat­e flow­ers are a bright and fiery red, while the fruit is plump and roundish, and its seed pods are translu­cent. As such, pomegranat­es sym­bol­ise fes­tiv­ity, bumper har­vests and peace­ful fam­i­lies for Chi­nese peo­ple, and so are con­sid­ered to bring luck, hap­pi­ness and pros­per­ity. In au­tumn, the red pomegranat­es hang­ing from branches in gar­dens present a unique sight in Bei­jing. There are two rea­sons Bei­jingers par­tic­u­larly adore this fruit. First, pomegranat­e flow­ers are mostly red. In the fifth month on the lu­nar cal­en­dar, when pomegranat­es blos­som, the trees are laden with fra­grant flow­ers. There­fore, this month is re­ferred to as the “Pomegranat­e Month.” Sec­ond, pomegranat­es are an ex­cel­lent sea­sonal fruit, known for be­ing sweet and sour, and with a lin­ger­ing taste. For Bei­jingers, “three-white” pomegranat­es are con­sid­ered the best va­ri­ety. Also known as “snow sugar pomegranat­es,” they are named af­ter the dis­tinct white petals, white peels and white ar­ils.

Loyal Or­ange Trees

“Re­mem­ber that the sea­son with yel­low lemons and green or­anges is the most pic­turesque” is a much-quoted verse from “To Liu Jing­wen,” a poem writ­ten by Su Shi the great Song Dy­nasty poet. China be­gan to cul­ti­vate or­anges 4,000 years ago. In the Shang­shu (Book of Doc­u­ments) it states, “In Weiyang Pre­fec­ture of Huai­hai... tan­ge­los were used as im­pe­rial tributes.” In the Xia Dy­nasty, or­anges pro­duced in Jiangsu, An­hui, Jiangxi and Hu­nan were clas­si­fied as tributes. Fi­nally, in the Han Feizi, tan­ge­los (a hy­brid of the tan­ger­ine and grape­fruit) are de­scribed as “sweet tast­ing and aro­matic.”

Al­though they first orig­i­nated in south­ern China, or­anges were brought to Chang'an, the cap­i­tal of the Han and Tang dy­nas­ties as tributes, and to the For­bid­den City in Bei­jing dur­ing the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties, and so they are well-known to north­ern­ers. The suc­cu­lent fruit prompted peo­ple to try trans­plant­ing the fruit tree from the south to the north, but the re­sults were in­vari­ably dis­ap­point­ing. There­fore it was con­cluded that: “Grown in re­gions to south of the Huaihe River, or­anges are sweet; grown to the north, they are bit­ter and sour.” In the eyes of the poet Qu Yuan, the fruit sym­bol­ised loy­alty, as seen in one of his lines which said, “As a vir­tu­ous tree of the earth, the or­ange stays loyal to its home­land. It re­fuses trans­plan­ta­tion to the north, for love of its mother­land.”

Dur­ing the Qin and Han dy­nas­ties, the cul­ti­va­tion of or­anges de­vel­oped fur­ther. In Lü’s Spring and Au­tumn Records, one ac­count states that “of the best qual­ity fruits, there are the or­anges of Jiangfu and the grape­fruit of Yun­meng.” In Records of the Grand His­to­rian, it is writ­ten, “The State of Qi abounds in fish and salt, while the State of Chu abounds in or­ange groves,” show­ing that or­anges were ex­ten­sively grown in south­ern China and on a par with fish and salt pro­duc­tion in the State of Qi.

Dur­ing the South­ern and North­ern dy­nas­ties, two books about or­anges emerged: Xiangyang qi­ji­uzhuan (Old Pas­sage of Xiangyang) and Jingzhou ji (Records of Jingzhou). Con­tained in the for­mer is a story which goes: Dur­ing the late-han Dy­nasty, Li Heng the gov­er­nor of Danyang, planted more than 1,000 or­ange trees as a le­gacy for his wife and chil­dren who were not skilled at man­ag­ing the house. On his deathbed, he told his son, “I have 1,000 wooden slaves in my home­town. They won't ask for food or cloth­ing, but they will yield enough to keep you fed.” The “wooden slaves” in the pas­sage are or­ange trees. From then on, this has be­come a hu­mor­ous nick­name for or­ange trees.

The trans­plant­ing of or­ange trees to North China was recorded dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty. Duan Cheng­shi men­tioned in Youyang zazu (Miscellane­ous Morsels from Youyang) that a batch of the trees were planted in the palace in the 10th year of Tian­bao dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Xuan­zong dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty, 150 of which bore fruit iden­ti­cal to the trib­ute or­anges from Jiang­nan and Shu­dao. How­ever, the fruit con­tin­ued to be mainly pro­duced in the Yangtze River Basin and re­gions to its south. Po­ets dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty were es­pe­cially fond of or­anges. Cen Can wrote the lines, “The court­yard is ex­clu­sively filled with or­ange trees, while half of the gar­den is planted with tea.” Wei Yingwu also wrote, “On learn­ing that you were long­ing for or­anges on your sickbed, I picked you a few, only to find them green and sour.”

Dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Yon­gle (1403–1424) of the Ming Dy­nasty, an em­i­nent Ja­panese monk passed through Wen­zhou—the home­town of or­anges— af­ter vis­it­ing Guo­qing Tem­ple in Tiantai, China. From there he brought or­ange trees back to Kagoshima in Kyushu, Japan. Af­ter graft­ing and im­prove­ment, a new seed­less va­ri­ety was cul­ti­vated. Known as un­shiu in Japan, and Wen­zhou Tan­ger­ines in China, the va­ri­ety was widely planted across Japan and ex­ported over­seas, later spread­ing to Europe and the Amer­i­cas. This fruit from the south of the Huaihe River and ex­ported over­seas is an “aus­pi­cious fruit,” and a gift from the Chi­nese peo­ple to the world.

Books writ­ten in Chi­nese about or­anges also spread to all corners of the world. The most im­por­tant of those is Yongjia julu (“Yongjia Record on Or­anges”) writ­ten by Han Yanzhi in the South­ern Song Dy­nasty. Han Yanzhi was the son of Han Shizhong, a fa­mous gen­eral. He was born in Yan'an, Shaanxi, where or­anges orig­i­nally did not grow. At the age of 48, he was ap­pointed to of­fice in Wen­zhou, an im­por­tant cit­rus pro­duc­ing area. Af­ter tast­ing the fruit, he be­came fond of or­ange trees and wrote the mono­graph in the Chunxi Pe­riod.

Dur­ing the Ming and Qing Dy­nas­ties, or­anges be­came a pri­mary means of liveli­hood for many farm­ers. In the Qing Dy­nasty, Wu Zhen­fang recorded in Ling­nan zaji (Miscellane­ous Notes of Ling­nan) that “Arable land is scarce in Guangzhou, and the peo­ple there mainly grow or­anges for eco­nomic ben­e­fits.” Ac­cord­ing to Nan­feng fengsu wuhuzhi (“An­nals of Cus­toms and Pro­duces in Nan­feng”), a mono­graph writ­ten dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty, the en­tire Nan­feng Vil­lages in Jiangxi “did not till land, but in­stead spe­cialised in cul­ti­vat­ing or­anges.”

Many foods made of or­anges are men­tioned in the Qing Dy­nasty novel Rulin waishi ( The Schol­ars) by Wu Jingzi. The char­ac­ter Du Shen­qing, who was par­tic­u­larly fas­tid­i­ous about food and cloth­ing, would treat his guests with “the best or­ange wine from Yongn­ing Brew­ery,” ac­com­pa­nied with sea­sonal cher­ries, bam­boo shoots and fresh fish. In an­other case, Mrs. Wang who liked to flaunt her ex­trav­a­gance, would have or­ange cakes, lon­gans and lo­tus seeds as snacks every day. She would also stuff tea into hol­lowed-out or­anges and grape­fruit, and close the peel. Af­ter some time, the or­ange peel be­came wrin­kled and dried out, while the tea took on the aroma of the fruit.

In his prose work A’chang yu shan­hai­jing (A’chang and Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas), the fa­mous Chi­nese writer Lu Xun (1881– 1936) re­called how his wet nurse re­quested he eat a lucky or­ange on the morn­ing of the first day of the first lu­nar month. “This way, you'll have luck all year round and ev­ery­thing will go smoothly...”

Au­tumn evenings in Bei­jing are filled with the fra­grance of sea­sonal fruits. Dur­ing this golden sea­son when fam­i­lies re­unite, it is pure bliss to sit around with one's fam­ily, sip tea be­neath the full moon, shell a few sugar-roasted chest­nuts, eat a few large red hawthorns and share some pomegranat­es. One may as well peel open a lucky or­ange like Lu Xun and of­fer some up to the moon as a bless­ing, as thanks for the sil­ver rays from the god of the moon.

Pho­tos by Zhang Xin

Sugar-roasted chest­nuts, a pop­u­lar snack in Bei­jing dur­ing au­tumn and win­ter

Can­died hawthorns not only taste good but also look good.

Lon­gan (guiyuan) can be found as far back as the Han Dy­nasty over 2,000 years ago.

The pe­riod around Mid-au­tumn Fes­ti­val is the sea­son when ju­jubes ripen.

Per­sim­mons are sweet and juicy when eaten raw, and take on ad­di­tional flavours af­ter be­ing dried.

Wal­nuts not only play a part in tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine but are also con­sid­ered cu­rios.

Pomegranat­es are a sea­sonal fruit, known for be­ing sweet and sour.

A snack with dried apri­cots and per­sim­mons and cooked lo­tus root slices soaked in hot wa­ter

Or­anges are a pop­u­lar fruit in Bei­jing.

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