Monday, July 10, 2006

The Yuzu Tree by Shiro Sirversteinu - Yuzu-Citrus Fruit

Remember during elementary school when the teachers would pass out the monthly book club catalogs, full of adventure books, mystery novels and sticker books. The kids, including myself, used to go nuts over these. But I was an underprivileged kid – I never got to order any of these thanks to my Chinese parents, who also never bought me the ‘good lunches’ consisting of Lunchables, Capri-Sun and Sunkist Fruit Snacks. My only children’s books happened to be written in a language completely foreign to me. And it wasn’t even in Chinese either. Sometimes my children’s books would be found under my dad’s mattress, but that’s another story. So after begging my mom to let me finally order a book, I gladly showed her my pick from the catalog. I had circled nearly 20 different books with my No. 2 Ticonderoga pencil. My mom looked at me and said, “only one.” After careful consideration, I went for the most expensive one – Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”. Valued at $15.95 (which was a lot back in the late 80s), this book had cool illustrations and a wonderful story that I had read over and over again. For those that haven’t read this, the title of the book says it all. It’s the story of a boy and his leafy & barked friend. As the boy grows older, he asks the tree for its vital organs so that he may progress in life. Eventually the man dies by the tree that had provided sustenance since he was a little boy. *Sniff.

My reason for digging up old bones? I found my Giving Tree - a Japanese citrus-fruit tree called a yuzu tree. If Shel Silverstein had been born Japanese, he would probably be writing about a yuzu tree, and not an apple tree. The fruit originates from China and ranges between 5.5 and 7.5 cm in diameter, but can be as large as a grapefruit. Its taste is similar to a grapefruit/mandarin orange. The Yuzu is not eaten as an orange is, but is used for garnishing, marinating and producing citrus-based sauces like Ponzu. The peel and rinds have a oily, robust-lemon and lime flavor. The Japanese sometimes dunk whole yuzu fruits in spas and bath tubs for an aromatic time. I have yet to see Bath & Body Works start a line – not that I would care.

I’ve eaten beef and tuna tataki many times with ponzu sauce but have never experienced the taste of yuzu as an isolated ingredient. Chef Toshi at Sushi Karen makes a great amberjack kanpachi sushi using puréed garlic, jalapeno, soy sauce and fresh yuzu. After I had this, J and I attempted to make this using a ponzu sauce. It was good, but just not the same.

Since I couldn’t find this fruit anywhere in LA Japanese markets, I thought it would be easier to just grow it on my own. Kirk, Elmomonster and Pirikara all helped me out in seeking this delectable fruit. Thanks for the help guys! Yesterday, my mom and I took a peek at the San Gabriel Nursery and found 4 yuzu plants ranging from $39.99 to $79.99. The one I picked was the cheapest yet also bore the most fruit – 8 to be exact, yet unripened. I kept 1 yuzu fruit in my pocket to taste it later on. Yuzu is typically expensive because it supposedly only grows fruit once a year. If this plant does well, I'm going back to San Gabriel Nursery for a Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange tree. As soon as I got home, my mom and I removed the dying plant in the spot we had decided on. I then cut off every single evil thorn on the plant - nearly 65 thorns, some as long as 3". The yuzu bears beautiful, fragrant fruit, but it's also obvious that it is cheap and thrifty. I wonder how many hummingbirds have been impaled on the yuzu tree.

To my Yuzu tree, I only ask that you give me your fruit to make bombass sushi – that’s all I want. Well, maybe some key-yuzu pie. Or how about some yuzu-flavored cookies. Wait! And the sound of Yuzu sorbet sounds great too. I'lll hopefully have a list of different yuzu-infused recipes once this tree decides to 'give'.

Thanks again to Kirk, Elmonster and Pirikara. I’m one happy man.

Thanks for reading.


Jeni said...

I love Scholastic Book super fun! I had to slowly embezzle money out of my mom's purse to buy kitten posters and scratch 'n sniff stickers. WHAT CRAP!

Your Yuzu tree roser! You crack me up D!

s'kat said...

I'm sure your yuzu tree will provide much happiness!

Is there such a thing as yuzu-jitos?

Renee said...

Wow, your very own source of Yuzu. The best I can find is some salted juiced version which is imported and expensive to boot. Who wants salty yuzu-pie??
I was the ultimate nerd back then (elementary... oh wait, I don't know if things have changed now given my line of (grad) "work"). I'd save my bits of monthly allowance only to blow it all on these mass produced paperbacks. Meanwhile I could have gone to the library and read them all for free.
In the one book you chose, you picked a classic. I think I "saw" this book animated on Reading Rainbow or something like that. It was such a tear jerker when the tree allowed the man to make it into a boat...

Kirk said...

Hi EDMB - Sounds like Yuzu madness has taken over! I see you've mapped them all out...I'm just surprised that you haven't started naming them.

Yuzu said...

Thanks for writing an entry all about me! ;P Heh. I loved The Giving Tree as a kid. Along with A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Congrats on growing your own yuzu tree! I think even just the scent of the fruits will keep you happy.

I think I'll ask my dad to grow a yuzu tree in his backyard. He's better at taking care of trees than I am. I'd probably end up with just a stump for me to sit on when I'm old. ;)

Pirikara said...

Wow, so they do have thorns! I should be proud of my callous hands since I was able to steal fruit from a yuzu farmer without a scratch! btw, as big as they can get, I think yuzu is at its prime when its small. And I'm talkin' 3-5 cm.-small. At least that's the size at which the Oxnard farmer was distributing them to sushi bars.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

J, did they ever have scratch n' sniff kitten stickers? Nasty. What should we make next once this tree decides to give it up?

S'Kat, how are you? Thanks for the idea... Yuzu-jitos are definitely on the menu. $13 for one - NY prices.

Renee, how are you? Are you all settled in? Sorry for the delay on Zero 7. The bottled yuzu is almost $10 here, and ponzu sauce is about $5-7. Not a cheap sauce. Reading Rainbow... I remember that show. I remembered how they would do animated versions of books. Nice hearing from you.

Kirk, thanks again. I'm still thinking of other things to incorporate yuzu into. I also got a $13 sashimi knife at Marukai in Gardena. Not high end, but worth a try for now. I'll invest in one later if I get really into it. Also, I heard Bola and MS met up with you a few weeks ago. How did that go?

Yuzu, I knew you would love this tree haha. You should definitely grow one in the folks' backyard. If have time, you can take a sharpie and draw that cartoon face on each one haha.

Pirikara, this tree is MEAN. I almost poked myself in the head while tring to plant this rooted evil. The largest fruit on the tree right now is about 1.5" in diameter, but it's stil dark green... I figure I have to wait for it to atleast be somewhat yellow before stealing from it. Did you go to the Bridge USA festival yesterday in Torrance by the way?

J said...

hi dylan, fabulous post! i absolutely adore the flavour of yuzu and use it every opportunity i can, so this post really strikes a chord...;)

Tokyoastrogirl said...

I love this post. First of all, congratulations on your yuzu tree- that's so awesome that you just went out and got one. Second- I TOTALLY relate to your school lunch pain. My mom always packed "homemade" stuff like chicken salad sandwiches on wheat, pasta salad or onigiri. Of course I appreciate that now but back then, all I wanted was a friggin' Lunchable and a Capri Sun!!! Maybe it's an Asian thing?!

Renee said...

Hey Dylan,
Yup all settled, so let me know when's a good time for me to bug you about the Zero 7. I wish I could also send a request for a prized Yuzu... even the little one that fell off the tree. But I know how that won't fare well with US-Canadian Border Import/Export relations.
Anyway, I was one of those "lucky" kids that got sodium packed processed Lunchables from mom. I'm surprised she gave in judging by what a picky eater I used to be. I was also the weird kid that really liked the Chrysanthemum tea from Vita in her lunch bag. "What's that?? You're drinking flowers?? You're weird."
At least I had the crackers, cheese and deli meat. Either that or raw packs of Mama noodles, that you crush to bits and then add the delicious pack of sodium enhanced MSG. Did you ever do that too? Geeze, what nutritious lunches I had. :P

elmomonster said...

HAHA! That's hilarious! You diagramed your plans for on the tree itself! Glad you were able to find one.

Yuzu said...

I forgot to add that Gap has been making a Silk Yuzu perfume for a couple years now. It smells good. But you're right — I'm sure Bath & Body Works will jump on the yuzu bandwagon soon enough.

Pirikara said...

You're going to wait til it turns yellow?? I say take it while it's green. At least that's when they use it at the sushi bar I go to. Yes, I went to the festvial....from 4 to 6 pm. I had only one half of one Shinsengumi chicken skewer though. *tear* I had to save myself for Gaja later that nite.

eatdrinknbmerry said...

J, what are some of your favorite recipes using Yuzu? Could you email me? Thanks. Always nice to get a visit from Queen Culinaria of Singapore.

Tokyoastrogirl, thanks. Your school lunch was still better than mine. Mine comprised of vietnamese pork loaf sandwiches, chinese preserved plum candies, seaweed in a snack pack and cuttlefish jerky. How much can you trade with those? Even you would've turned away from me if we were classmates haha.

Renee, i'll find a way to get onto MSN messenger. i don't use MSN. dude, i know exactly what you're talking about. I love the chrysanthemum tea and I used to drink Vitasoy milk (white and brown malt kind). Checkout my posting on this... you'll see that I ate the crushed 'gong zai mein' too. I called them ghetto chips. Those were packed with so much MSG. I'm dying as we speak haha.

Elmo, I'm going to spend afternoons in front of the tree like the boy in the book and watch it grow at 0.00000004528 inches per day. Hopefully it moves faster than our global tectonic plates.

Yuzu, I've got to patent my own yuzu product. Yuzu-scented bandaids... no scent of blood whatsoever.

Pirikara... is that true? All the photos i've seen on flickr and packaging show yellow yuzus. So i figured that i should reach that level of ripeness.

Passionate Eater said...

Very cool EDNBM--the key to becoming a kick-ass chef is mastering the art of gardening. I miss having my own yard. There is a different and more intense flavor to home-grown fruits and vegetables. Try growing herbs too, like lemongrass and basil. That stuff tastes 100X better when you pick it fresh off the plant than from the plastic supermarket bags.

Pirikara said...

Green lime means "go!" That's what I'd say. Yeah all those websites show big lemons. Maybe that just shows not everyone knows the secret of the yuzu.

Oh and MOS Burger can only be found in Japan and Hawaii. Sorry.

Pirikara said...

That reminds me of something... A few years back while vacationing in Hawaii, I was asked by my ramen-whore of a friend (you know the one) to bring back a MOS chili burger for him. I got it past security but it turned godawfully bad during the 5-plus hour trip. HE STILL ATE IT!

Kirk said...

Hey EDBM - Yes, finally met BoLA and MS...such a nice couple. I don't think that they had quite enough food to eat for dinner, though......

rick james said...


should get a pitbull to guard your yuzu(s)... just in case mr. local sushi chef neighbor tries to jack em'

Anonymous said...

OMG, how funny, you totally hit the scholastic book paper catalogs on the dot. and about the lunchables/capri-sun. Are all asian parents the same?
And thank you for description of yuzu, b/c i just realized that yuzu is the same as "yoo-ja" in korean, which i am most familiar in the tea form. But my friend made this really good salad dressing out of yooja tea (which looks like preserves or yuzu marmelade), white balsamic vinegar, ground cashews...and potentially a mystery ingredient. Anyways, i thought it was a cool, novel way to incorporate yooja but i guess lots of other people already do that. hanna

eatdrinknbmerry said...

PE, hi! I agree with you completely on freshness. I think i'm going to start growing a few herbs in the backyard - the edible kind, that is. Watching shows like Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), I envy her access to a lush garden of produce.

Pirikara, I'm going to wait a little - give it a chance to show me what it can do before I start extracting. When I tested out one of the fruits, which was only about 1.5" inches in diameter, there was barely any juice - just seeds and pulp.

Kirk, If you're/I'm in my/your area, we should definitely meet up for food. You know I know the SG Valley area pretty well.

Ron, haha that'd be funny if I set up a little barbed wire fence - kind of like a mini Fulton-County Prison. Hey I think I'm going to try and go to the Tina Kim show. Have you purchased tix yet?

Anon, yes I think all Asian parents are the same. They never went to Ralph's, Albertson's, Lucky's, Alpha Beta to shop. It was always some market that was named with numbers like 99 Ranch. I didn't know koreans used yuzu in their cooking - love korean food. Thanks for stopping by.

Pirikara said...

Barely any seeds or pulp?.....ohhh ok, I think when it comes to juicing it then perhaps the bigger the better, BUT if you want the yuzu for its rind, smaller the better. Finely grated yuzu peel is quite nice atop grilled anago.

rick james said...

yeah, got my tix for tina kim... should get them soon cause she's gonna sell out...

i'm working with her now, writing a pilot together... she's hella funny!

see ya there!

k said... clubs. My kids (I teach) are so fanatical about them.

A yuzu tree! So cool. Oh the things you could do... lucky guy!

Foodie Universe said...

I love the illustration, and yuzu, and your post. I wish you the best of luck with your burgeoning tree garden. I have been trying to grow things (tomatoes, peas, and more) for several months now but I haven't had much success. My Thai pepper plant is still living but has been in the seedling stage for several months now. I hope to one day have a kumquat tree/bush.

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