Fruit

What Local Fruit is the Platypus of the Produce World?

April  3, 2016

I have this thing for picking things off trees and eating them. The fruit calls to me. I can spot the first fig ripening on a tree or find a wee wild strawberry growing under a carpet of green.

Photo by Catherine Lamb

So when I caught a glimmer of orange in a tree while biking around my hometown of Charleston, you’re damn right I screeched to a halt right then and there to investigate.

Upon closer inspection, I found that each branch of the tree had dozens of clusters of ripening fruit, about the size of apricots, ranging in color from green to neon orange. After asking around I found out that these fruits, which I was now noticing on every street corner, backyard, and alleyway, were called loquats—and that’s when my obsession began.

According to the University of California Cooperative Extension, the loquat is “an ancient fruit, related to the apple [and] the quince,” which explains its tart-sweet flavor. Native to China and Japan, the loquat has spread to many tropical and subtropical sections of the world. I can personally attest to their presence in South Carolina and Texas, where their tang is a welcome refresher from the hot, humid air. They’re also apparently ubiquitous in Florida and Southern California.

Photo by Catherine Lamb

The loquat is the platypus of the fruit world; it seems to combine familiar species into something completely new. It has smooth, semi-fuzzed skin of a plum and the inner texture of a grape. When you bite into one, you’re met with an initial sour zip of lemon that gives way to a smooth, mango-like sweetness. Don’t try one before they’re squarely between orange and yellow on the color wheel or they’ll be way too tart.

After sampling my first loquat, I began to brainstorm ways to use my newly-discovered foraged fruit in the kitchen. But when I started asking the internet, my friends, and strangers on the street what they did with their crop of loquats, I found surprisingly little information.

Photo by Catherine Lamb

Besides finding a stray recipe for chutney or jelly, when I Googled “best loquat recipes,” a tumbleweed essentially blew across my computer screen. People I.R.L. seemed similarly stumped. While everyone I questioned said they liked eating loquats occasionally, hardly anyone seemed to cook with them. Though I did hear tell of someone baking them into a loquat chess pie and a local brewery adding them into their beer…

As I’m not really a pie person (cue gasps!), I decided to do to loquats what I always want to do to fruit—baked it into an upside down cake. Inspired by this rhubarb-y recipe from Kenzi Wilbur, I stewed the halved, de-seeded fruit with brown sugar and butter until they started to slump, poured the mixture into a pan, and topped it with big slumps of thick, buttermilk batter.

Photo by Catherine Lamb

The result proved my theory that any fruit can—and should—be the star of an upside-down cake...

A couple things to keep in mind when cooking (or eating) loquats:

  • As Smaug told me on the Hotline, "They really should be eaten right off the tree; they degrade really fast once picked. One of the produce stores in my area used to sell them with big hunks of branches still attached; that helped."
  • You'll have to remove the pit in the middle.
  • Some people peel the fruit, but others say that peeling removes a lot of flesh is not necessary, as the skin is rather thin.
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13 Comments

A G. April 3, 2018
Is it going to be harmful if steamed before seeds are out?<br />Please help me if someone knows.
 
Erika S. April 24, 2017
Loquats have large seeds, three maybe even four. So each fruit has only a little fruit. We use it chopped up as an excellent addition to salads.
 
dawnanolan April 7, 2016
Look in old cookbooks for recipes with loquats, especially California-centric ones. My grandmother & her peers made lots of stuff with them way back when.
 
Jennifer K. April 6, 2016
Fruit every OTHER year ... aha! That explains why we had no fruit last year. This year in Charleston has been amazing. I've got 4 quarts of jam so far ... two are just loquat and two are loquat-blueberry. My daughter's preferred jam for PB&J, no joke!
 
Jan W. April 6, 2016
Loquats are incredibly common in Spain and Portugal (Spanish: níspero, Portuguese: nêspera) In fact, there is an area of Valencia in Spain that has a D.O.P for growing them. Anyway they are often grown as ornamental trees just like oranges and lemons, but a lot of people grow them in gardens for the fantastic sweet/tart fruit. They are super easy to peel when they are ripe and the drupe pit doesn't cling at all so very quick to eat too. When I'm in Lisbon I usually buy a crate of them each week and they are usually gone by the next week if not sooner.
 
louanne April 6, 2016
We have them all over south Louisiana, but, true to Louisiana nature, we call them Japanese plums. I have two in my yard, and they're found all over New Orleans and the surrounding areas. I eat them fresh from the tree, but I've seen them made into preserves and jam, too.
 
Stefanie S. April 6, 2016
North Central Florida is covered with loquat trees and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings has a recipe for Loquat Pie in her Cross Creek Cookery from the 1940s.
 
Rebecca S. April 4, 2016
We have these all over North Florida. They grow well, but the Loquat isn't as flavorful to me as the Kumquat or the Kalamundan Trees. Both create excellent jams, and are fun in cocktails!
 
miznic April 4, 2016
Our loquat tree came with the house when we bought it some years ago. - I've found that the loquats grow every other year. Haven't been brave enough to try one - think I might do that today, we have a lot of them this year. (I'm in Georgia... those trees grow quite well here.)
 
healthierkitchen April 4, 2016
I think these are what I bought in Tel Aviv last week. They looked like oblong apricots, but had multiple (2 -3) pits. Some in the batch were sweet and some tart, even when seeming to be the same level of ripeness.
 
Hannah O. April 3, 2016
The moment I scrolled down and saw the picture, I gasped and my mouth started watering. I grew up with loquats in my hometown and they're one of the things I most miss about California.<br /><br />I saw loquat jam in a store once, which seems like a good way to save them through summer - for which I'd gladly pay, if you offer.
 
carlito April 3, 2016
Now I know I have a loquat tree in my front yard! I have been wondering for months what the fruit was!
 
Rhonda35 April 3, 2016
I hope I stumble upon a loquat tree someday!