Sunday, November 07, 2010

Winter fruit in the medina

In all the years of living in the Fez Medina, we've never known the proper name of the exquisitely-hued fruit that makes its appearance at this time of year. Now we've found out.

Known in Moroccan Arabic as sheshnou, the arbutus (Arbutus unede) is sold at medina stalls during November. Locals say it wards off the cold, which is just about right for this time of year. It's a mountain fruit and doesn't keep, which is why you'd never see it in a supermarket, and the season is short. There's not much you can do with it except eat it fresh, and whole, despite its prickly skin. The colour is stunning. It's sold in paper cones and punnets - a cone costs Dh3.

Pliny didn't think much of it, but Ovid liked its 'blushing fruit'. In Spain and Corsica, a wine is made from the fruit. Beware - some people think the fruit is narcotic in large quantities!


Anonymous said...

Long time ago the fruit of strawberry tree (arbutus unede) was sold inserted in palm leaves or in sticks like chiche kebab -
I see nowadays people are busy and have no time left to keep the old tradition -
By the way, sheshnou is a somniferous - Don't drive after ingesting it -

Andrea said...

I like best the name of the plant itself as it is also named "strawberry tree".

Alsul - Alentejo said...

In Portugal the fruit is edible and it can prepare a spirit of excellent quality (arbutus brandy). The leaves are used in folk medicine for its diuretic properties and antiseptic. The leaves and bark are rich in tannins and were used for tanning leather. This wood is appreciated for making charcoal.
The strawberry tree is a relatively common species here near our school.
This species normally appears with shrubby but may, with age and when ecological conditions are favorable, appears as a small tree.
At School Our Lady of Light in Arronches, there are small arbutus trees that adorn with their beauty and add color to the whole school.

Warning: The arbutus is also famous for the ability to cause intoxication and headache to those who consume a lot, since when mature, have a certain amount of alcohol.