In a hot tropical climate, a low-fat, cool and only slightly sweetened dessert is most refreshing. A classic Thai dessert is lychee (litchi) on ice. The simplest version is a can of lychee in syrup, mixed with ice. The home-made version demands peeling and removal of the seeds, and then the making of a syrup, which should not be too sweet. Start with 2 dl of water and one table-spoon of sugar (15 ml), boil the syrup and let it cool.
The season for Lychee (Litchi chinensis, Sapindaceae) has just begun in the south. A most refreshing drink while working hard in the garden, is to simply eat the fruits straight from the tree. Such a fruit is still warm from the sun, and as soon as your teeth crush the cells you will create a stream of divine flavours. The lychee is like a water balloon, swollen with the juice of vigour. An old scientific name for lychee is “Euphoria“, which is a very descriptive name for a fruit that makes even an experienced gardener rolling his tongue loudly and praise the flavours, although he had another one just five minutes ago. You never get tired of lychee, you just want more. My experience is that the thirst is quenched after four fruits and then you are fit to work again. Doi Kham makes a nice juice of the fruit, which should be served with ice. Stay away from cheap diluted juices or flavoured drinks, try to get the 100% real juice. That is liquid sunshine in a box.
The Chinese scholar Tsai Hsiang discussed the many lychee varieties in his book on fruit cultivation which was published in 1079 (yes, 931 years ago). One Thai name for a gigantic lychee variety is “jak ga pat” (“the Emperor”). The species originates in southern China, Thailand and Vietnam. Lychee grows slowly and makes a hard and beautiful wood. It may not reach its prime production for 20-40 years, but then it can stay productive for another 100 years. For successful cultivation in the Chiang Mai valley, you should provide irrigation during the hot season and well drained soils. It prefers drought during the cold season. At Dokmai Garden we have some young plants which thrive very well when irrigated. At higher altitudes the lychee seems to do quite well without management. When a tree reaches the productive age, it is a magnificent sight with drooping clusters of red balls.
No lychee available? Try this!
Ketsanee Seehamongkol and Eric Danell