Seeing the first green tiny apple like Janerek in shops is like hearing the first cuckoo of the year. It is nature’s confirmation that spring is here.
Tiny, about double the size of grapes, juicy, very crisp, and a bit sour, one small bite captures that green spring crunch. They’re sour because they’re picked before they have fully ripened.
Young sour plums are known by various names around the world: goje sabz in Iran, janerek or jarareng in Lebanon, erik in Turkey, mei in China, and ume in Japan. Although not all the same variety of plum, they can be used in similar ways. Very popular in Middle Eastern communities, this variety’s trade around the region can be traced back to 2000 years.
This special plum is different from all the rest. It has a unique tart and sour taste and, unlike other plums, it is very hard. It has die-hard fans like myself that can’t wait for it to arrive each season. Its season usually starts in mid-April and ends in mid-May. At the beginning of the season, green plums tend to be small and extra tart. As the season proceeds, they get bigger, juicier, and lose some of the initial tartness. Every Lebanese person has a preference as to when to consume Janerek best. But alas, the season is just too short.
To salt or not to salt, is the biggest question around that time in Lebanon. Opinions differ as to how to best eat them. However, a healthy portion of Janerek fans prefer it with salt, cutting the tart flavor with some salty taste, becoming sour, salty, and crunchy. Usually salt is placed on a coffee cup saucer and with each bite, comes a dip of salt with it. Another great way of eating them is to chill them for a while, until drops of water appear on the surface of the green plums, which greatly enhance their esthetic.
Tangy, refreshing, tart, and crunchy, these plums are Lebanon’s spring fruit by excellence, although they taste nothing like a sweet fruit does. For some, the sour flavor is a refreshing way to cleanse the palate after a heavy meal. For others, they can be eaten anytime, anywhere.
One bite of this salacious green loveliness ties together all the taste of spring with its crunchy green taste. Unripe, rock-hard, and intensely sour is exactly what they’re supposed to be, as each bite comes with a little wink of the eye when the sourness hits the palette. They look like the green hills of Lebanon on a sunny spring day. Packed with flavor, they embody all the zest of spring in Lebanon.