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  1. Yunnan's glorious yangmei season 杨梅季节 has finally arrived. When I went to the market a couple days ago, sellers had baskets of them nearly everywhere I looked. They will fade out and be gone by about the end of the month, so I will enjoy them while I can. They currently go for 10 Yuan per 公斤, which is one whole kilogram. Last year at this time I was returning by train from Honghe Prefecture 红河州 in the southeast part of the province and it seemed that every person getting on during early stops had a small plastic mesh basket of them which they carefully protected, in addition to their other luggage. Some of the best ones are grown in and around Mengzi county 蒙自县。 Even here, just in one single location, there are several sub-varieties. The first set of photos, up top above, shows smaller dark yangmei fruit beside larger, redder ones. The small dark ones cost a little more and were slightly sweeter. I tasted both and thought the big ones would suit me well. This tasty fruit goes by the scientific name of Myrica rubra, and is grown in south China, below the Yangtze, ideally at an altitude of about 1,000 meters. The train mentioned above passed through or near hectares upon hectares of orchards up on the hillsides. The same area is rich in pipa fruit 枇杷果 (a type of loquat) and shiliu 石榴 (pomegranate.) I always buy too much when I go there and wind up giving half of it away to friends after I realize it might spoil. The individual fruits are between 2 and 2.5 centimeters in diameter, and each one has a single seed in the middle. (These 1 Mao 一角 coins are for size.) The flesh is sweet and juicy, while also being tart. I don't know of anything else quite like it in the western world. Ripe ones acquire a deep purple color; if they are bright red they will be a little sour. Best to buy fruit that isn't visibly bruised; you may or may not find it with a leaf attached as shown here. I eat my fill of them just as they are after washing them in several changes of tap water and letting them stand 15 or 20 minutes in lightly salted drinking water to kill any bugs that might be stowing away. Dry them after that by setting them out on a kitchen cloth or small towel that is approximately the same color (because the fruit will stain a white cloth beyond repair.) If you don't like tart things, they can be gently poached a couple minutes in sugar water on the stove, and served chilled in that juice. Yangmei also makes good preserves and jam. But the other thing that most locals here really look forward to most of all at this time of year is making a batch or two of Yangmei fruit liqueur 杨梅酒。 Simply clean the fruit as above and air dry it a few minutes, layer it into a wide-mouth jar with rock sugar 冰糖 and cover it with high-proof grain alcohol 白酒。China's notorious Er Guo Tuo 二锅头 lends itself extremely well to this application. It is made from sorghum (not rice or something else) 粮酒 and the label says it is 56% alcohol, about 112 proof. Furthermore, it's inexpensive, 15 Yuan for a 500 ml bottle at my corner store. Screw on the lid, put it somewhere out of direct sun and let it stand a month or two, gently swirling it 晃一下 every two or three days. That "month or two" is the hard part, and recipes for this fine concoction often jokingly call it "self-control wine" or 自制力酒。It's a test of will power to keep from sampling it every so often, "just to see how it's coming along." This year my strategy has been to put it out of sight on a high shelf, labeled with yesterday's date. Maybe I can just forget about it most of the time; maybe it won't invade my dreams the way it has before. If you have a chance, please try some of this lovely fruit right now; don't wait. Not sure how easily it can be obtained overseas, and I don't think I've ever seen it dried like many of these seasonal delicacies. Be sure to put it on your agenda if you plan to come to China soon or if you live here and have been seeing it for sale but were sure what it was. It's delicious!
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