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Lychees Lovely

Whether your home is in Des Moines, Doncaster or Dusseldorf, we know you've probably already savored canned lychees but now is the season to try the fresh fruit straight from the tree. They are succulent, they are refreshing and they are ready May is the time for Lychee Festivals in various parts of Northern Thailand notably Phayao, Chiangrai and Fang. Enjoying a Thai festival is always great fun but when a festival is focused on a delicious, seasonal fruit then the experience is doubly enhanced.

Sorry, we cannot claim lychees to be native to Thailand. They are originally from the "Middle Kingdom" and have been grown in the southern regions of China for over 4,000 years. Cultivation, in Thailand, began over 100 years ago so orchards have been established and matured over several generations. As you drive around the countryside, you will probably see the surging ranks of dark green bushes spread across the fields these are lychees and come in three varieties Gim Jeng, Hong Huay and Ow Hia which reflect their Chinese ancestry.

The lychee bush is very demanding of its environment. Prior to flowering, a short cold spell is most important followed by a hot growing season. Rich, damp, slightly acid soil is essential and, as the bush blossoms and fruits set, the farmers will labor mightily to irrigate the crop to juicy perfection. The requisite growing conditions are found here in Northern Thailand especially around the Lychee Festival cities.

Lychees are best eaten within four days of picking; the fruit has an outer, thin-shelled skin (red changing to brown as the fruit ripens) which, when peeled away, reveals white, succulent flesh of a grape-like texture. A hard seed is at the core of the fruit. Like citrus fruits and black currants, lychees are high in vitamin "C" (five grape-sized fruit are enough for your daily needs) and also natural sugars. It is this natural and refreshing sweetness, combined with the firm texture "bite" that makes lychees so "more-ish".

As an added bonus (if you care to accept it), lychees are associated with romance along with the rose, they are looked upon as a special gift between lovers and a suggestion that marriage may be in the air. Indeed, some Thai companies are producing a tea infusion which has the fragrance of lychees and rose petals. It certainly makes an alternative to Russian Caravan or English Breakfast.

Fresh lychees are exceedingly good with vanilla ice cream or, as a variation, try them with a glass of red wine or port. Likewise, a combination of blue cheese with lychees will give you a new taste sensation which is very suited to the European palate.

This month is high season for the lychee fruit so do try them fresh and then experiment with some combinations to decide which you like best. The canned lychees you may be accustomed to at home just don't compare This year Lychee Festivals are held in Mae Jai District, Payao Province 10-12 May; Muang District, Chiang Rai Province 17-23 May; Fang District, Chiangmai Province 20 May. For more information contact Mae Jai 054-499025, Chiang Rai 053-718790, Fang 053-451146. Lovely Lychees some of the best Thailand has to offer.

General information:

Fruit in the same family as longan. Originally from China, has many types. Cultivated mostly in the North. Test cultivation is being carried out in Samutsakorn. Seasons April - June. Nutritional value (100 g.) Contains vitamin C and potassium.Selection and preservation Select red fruit, not dusky black, tight skin and not cracked, not rotten, fresh calyx and not dry skin. Can be kept for 2 days, at a temperature 5-8 degrees Celsius, in the refrigerator, by wrapping with plastic.Cooking Lychee floats in syrup and juice.

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