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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.