Shansi Drunken Jujubes

山西醉棗

Jujubes in their semi-dried form are a date-like fruit, which when plopped in liquor and left to soak up its flavor become plush, plump, and “drunk.” They are pleasantly intoxicating nibbles with tea, or can be served as an elegant dessert, arranged in a stem glass with a dollop of crème Chantilly on top.

  • This recipe originated in Shansi province in north China, an area famed for its large, honey-sweet jujubes and a strong, locally brewed white liquor. In Taiwan, we steeped the jujubes in homemade litchi wine. Here, in America, I find Cognac and golden rock sugar make the best blend and result in a syrup that is as good as the fruit.
  • For this recipe, use only soft, moist, pitted red jujubes, available in large Chinese markets and by mail order boxed in cellophane and labeled red dates without stone. Dried prunes make a good substitute. Do not use black jujubes (which are smoked), or the small, hard, red jujubes sold in plastic bags.
  • Cover the fruit with brandy at least 2 weeks before eating.

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Ingredients

Method

Steeping the jujubes

Put the jujubes in a clean glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Remove any cardboard lining the lid, and replace it with several thicknesses of plastic film if necessary for a tight fit. Add Cognac to cover and the crushed rock sugar, then twist the lid securely shut. Rotate the bottle to distribute the mixture, and put aside in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks, rotating the bottle occasionally to distribute the liquids. In the course of 2 weeks the fruit will swell, the sugar will dissolve, and the syrup will thicken perceptibly.

Serving the jujubes

To serve alone with tea, present the jujubes whole in a small dish, speared with tooth-picks, and glossed with a bit of the syrup. Or, for an elegant dessert, serve the jujubes and some of the syrup in individual stemmed glasses or on pretty, individual plates, garnished with a dollop of crème Chantilly (chilled heavy cream whipped to very soft peaks, with sugar and a touch of vanilla or Cognac to taste).

Leftover syrup is a fine beginning for more drunken jujubes, prunes, or golden raisins. It is also an excellent topping on its own for ice creams, waffles, or intoxicating pancakes.

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