It’s not often you come across a new fruit. I’ve lived in Asia for 12 years and thought I knew pretty much all the fruits available. But, walking through Graham Street Market, I saw something I’d never seen before. About the size of a large strawberry but almost perfectly spherical, a dark red verging on black colour and the look of a berry, a bit like a very large round raspberry. What is it, I asked but my language skills and those of the stall holder were not sufficiently in sync. Try one, he suggested. They were deliciously sweet to my taste and had a stone in the middle (a bit like a lychee) so not a berry. Another stallholder told me it was a blackberry which it definitely wasn’t – I ate plenty of those as a kid and they certainly don’t have stones.
Well a bit of research showed what fruit it was and explained why I hadn’t come across it before. It goes under various names – the Mandarin name seems to be yangmei. The late Pam Shookman renders it as yeung4 mui4 in her useful guide to the wet markets of Hong Kong. The only English name is bayberry but there seems to be some confusion with some other similar western berries of that name. Other names include yamamomo in Japan and Chinese strawberry although, again, there’s some confusion with other plants there. The botanical name is myrica rubra.
I think pretty much all the Asian fruits have gravitated to UK markets by now. I remember reading the produce manager of Sainsbury’s supermarkets in the UK a few years ago saying that he had successfully sold all exotic fruits with the single exception of durian – the pungently-aromaed fruit from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia which was a step too far for English nostrils apparently, despite its actually rather creamy taste. I’m pretty sure they’ve never sold yangmei though.
So why not the yangmei? Well it seems to have a very short growing season (as short as a couple of weeks according to some sources) and it doesn’t keep well – maybe only a day or two. I suspect that all that could change with some attention from breeders but it’s not currently an attractive proposition commercially in the west despite its very pretty appearance. Supermarkets favour selling fruits under-ripe that stay in “good” condition for weeks. There are though attempts to market the juice in the US under the trademarked name Yumberry – good luck with that!
I said that I found it sweet but it seems to get mixed opinions on that – some people describe it as sour-sweet – I think it depends how much of a sweet tooth you have as to how far the sourness comes through. They have a consistency which is weirdly reminiscent of citrus fruits when you bite into them – slightly fibrous but in a pleasant way. Apparently the dark coloured ones are sweeter than the redder varieties. it’s supposed to have all sorts of health benefits.
They are quite cheap – in the Graham Street market they were running for around HK$12 a punnet and I’ve seen them since for $10 but I have yet to see them in our local Park n Shop supermarket and only a few market stalls seem to have them. The season is right now – late May to early June.
So what to do with them? You can just eat them raw or juice them. But I like making jam so here goes with an almost novel form of jam. There’s not much to go on on the internet about making jam with yangmeis so I took a punt and used the standard benchmark of equal weights of fruit and sugar with just a little less sugar because they seemed so sweet.
The tricky thing is how to handle the stones and the flesh. I de-stoned the fruits by hand which was not too difficult – I guess something like a cherry pitter might help if you wanted to cut down on the hassle. One approach then would be to just use the juice and strain the fruit at some point to get rid of all the fibres. But I like some bite to my jam and figured the citrus-like fruit might make something a little like a coarse marmalade so I didn’t strain it at all. Some people say that you need to wash the fruits thoroughly because of the possibility of bugs although I didn’t see any.
I used four punnets and after de-stoning the fruit had about 1.2 kg to which I added 1kg of jam sugar. The results are a wonderful colour but the jam is quite thick – I’m not sure if that’s because of high pectin content in the fruit or because I left in all the flesh. If I we remaking it again I think I would boil the fruit for slightly less time and use ordinary sugar to achieve more of a soft set.
- About 1.2 kg yangmeis, after de-stoning (approximately 4 punnets)
- 1kg ordinary white sugar
- Juice of half a lemon
- Mix together yangmei flesh and sugar and leave for 2 hours or overnight to infuse.
- Sterilise jars for 30 mins at 130C fan.
- Heat yangmei flesh and sugar over low heat for 5 mins to melt sugar, stirring.
- Raise heat to high heat for 20 mins stirring.
- Add lemon juice.
- If there is a lot of scum on the top of the jam, either remove it with a slotted spoon or add a knob of butter which will naturally disperse it.
- Decant the hot mixture into the sterilised jars almost to the top. Seal and briefly invert the jars to sterilise the tops. Take care with the hot liquid.
If you want a smoother jam without the flesh then strain the mixture after step 3.
These should keep for several months unopened and then several weeks in the fridge.
Read the guidance in tropical jam session for some general tips on jam making.