The lovely painting above is entitled “Loquats and Mountain Bird,” by Anonymous Southern Song artist, in the Collection of the National Palace Museum, Beijing.
Ever been surprised by a flash of realized abundance in your life, when and where you were least looking for it? That’s what happened when we realized the tree on our “private property” part of our Santa Monica sidewalk is a loquat tree, and that the fruit it yields not only edible but delicious. It’s flavor is a perfect marriage of sweet and sour (think mango, citrus and apricot) and I’ve got a motherlode in my kitchen waiting to be eaten as is, or become granita, syrup for kombucha, jam, barbeque sauce, who knows what else.
I had always wondered what was growing on our side yard tree, then this weekend at my favorite cafe Red Bread a fellow sat down next to me with a backpack full of what I recognized to be our tree fruit. On his way to the weekly community produce swap, he explained to me that these were indeed loquats. Down the rabbit hole of internet research I went. Later that afternoon, after reading around, my enthusiasm for our newfound crop at its peak, I brought my husband a piece of loquat who, though he loved the puckering flavor, dampened my glee with the comment, “I think I taste a faint essence of diesel fuel” (we have a bus stop smack in front of the tree, about 10 feet from our front window).
The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a species of flowering plant in the family Rosaceae,native to south-central China. It is a large evergreen shrub or small tree, grown commercially for its yellow fruit, and also cultivated as an ornamental plant.
Eriobotrya japonica was formerly thought to be closely related to the genus Mespilus, and is still sometimes known as the Japanese medlar. It is also known as Japanese plum and Chinese plum. In Japan it is called biwa. And in China, it is called Lo Guat in Cantonese and pipa in Mandarin.
The loquat has a high sugar, acid, and pectin content. It is best eaten dead ripe. On the internet you can find many recipes for loquat jam, jelly and pie, and on the private website entirely devoted to the fruit “Loquatworld.com” you can find links to some pretty offbeat delicacies, like pickled loquat and loquat grappa.
The large seeds contain trace amounts of cyanide and should not be eaten.
For an impressive source of information on loquat history, including different varieties, availability and commercialization (or lack thereof), I refer you to my local produce celebrity writer and David Karp and his 1999 article in the LA Times, “Loco for Loquats.”
Stay tuned for loquat recipes!