Welcome my honourable friend. It is good that you have come to see us. You know we are a venerable fruit much loved and prized throughout Chinese history. We have been cultivated as long ago as 1700 BC in China where we held pride of place in the Imperial household. We were so highly regarded that court poets used to write about us.
One poet, Su Shih, who displeased the Emperor was banished to the south of China, but as this was where we originated he consoled himself by eating 300 of us a day and writing many fine poems to us. Su Shih wrote this poem to us a thousand years ago in 1094 AD:
Beneath these green mountains where spring rules the year,
The irbarbutus and loquat in season appear,
And feasting on lychee – 300 a day,
I shouldn’t mind staying eternally here.
So next time you bite into one of us, close your eyes and imagine that you are the Emperor of China, surrounded by your courtiers at the heart of the Middle Kingdom.
Now I shall tell you more of our story. We’re usually round or slightly egg-shaped, the size of a walnut shell, pink to reddish-brown in colour, with a textured skin. Our skin is thin and brittle and is composed of numerous small, flat, wart-like bumps. When peeled off our skin reveals a glistening, moist, translucent ball of firm jelly-like flesh which has a delicate sweet taste. In the centre is a shiny brown seed.
We’re only available for a few months of the year with our best value being from December to January.
Although not bought in the shops by varieties we are grown by the following most common types: Kwai Mai, Tai So, Bengal, Fai Zee Siu, Yai Chee, Gee Kee, No Mai Chee.
We’re berries and are produced on tropical evergreen trees which grow to 10-12 metres. Our parent trees have a short trunk, low spreading branches and are quite attractive. Their shiny, leathery, green leaves are composed of several smaller long, thin leaflets which are grouped together in pairs. Long sprays of green-white to green-yellow flowers turn into bunches of fruit following fertilisation, but the trees need lots of water and a cold winter to do this.
We’re harvested in bunches when ripe. Harvesting is done by hand, and may require ladders, especially on the older taller trees.
Select those of us with fresh looking, firm skin. Some stem should be attached.
We do not ripen any further after harvesting. Refrigerate us in a plastic bag or container. Use within 7 days.
As I mentioned before we come from China where we have been grown for many thousands of years. It is only recently that we have been grown in other tropical and sub-tropical countries like Australia. Lychees were first introduced into Australia by Chinese miners in the mid 1880’s.
We’re a most attractive fruit with translucent, pearly white flesh with a hard brown seed. Our flesh is removed from our rough crimson skin before eating and the seed discarded. For quick eating just bite our top off, squeeze fruit straight into your mouth and spit the seed out. Simple. Great for school.
For effective presentation cut skin with scissors from tip end into petals. Fold each petal under fruit or force outwards so it resembles a flower.
Lychee Pork Stir-Fry
Stir-fry 1 clove crushed garlic. Drain. Toss 500g pork loin strips in cornflour and stir-fry over high heat until browned. Drain. Heat 1/3 cup plum sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce. Stir in 1 cup peeled and deseeded lychees, 4 chopped shallots, garlic and pork. Mix well and serve over hot noodles.
Spicy Lychee Bacon Snacks
Peel and deseed lychees. Fill with cream cheese seasoned with sweet chilli sauce. Wrap each one in a thin strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Cook on hot barbecue until crispy. Serve immediately.
Lychee And Orange Salad
Peel and halve 350g lychees and remove stones. Peel 3 medium oranges and slice. Arrange on a bed of watercress and sprinkle with French dressing and pecans.