On the down-loquat
It’s almost a dead ringer for an apricot at first glance, while its name suggests it may be a variety of citrus fruit, but the loquat is closely related to neither. A native of southeast China and long a naturalized and respected citizen of Japan, India, much of the Middle East and Europe, the loquat—Eriobotrya japonica—keeps only a marginally recognized existence in California. The trees are relatively common in yards and gardens, but mostly for their evergreen ornamental properties. There is a minimal commercial industry, and on most private trees, it seems, the yellowish-orange fruits spill from the branches each summer and go uneaten, making the loquat one of the most underrated fruits we know.
If you decide to initiate yourself with the loquat this summer, do it soon; the trees are now full of fruit. Also, you must do it right, as a prematurely harvested loquat will be unpalatably acidic and tart, and to reach full sweetness, loquats must be allowed to ripen on the tree. When ready, many are brilliant orange, their skins mottled with brown speckles. Such fruits, which occur in clusters of a half dozen or more, are often as sweet as peaches. Removing the skin is optional, though the seeds are bitter and sour. Spit them out. Also be sure to pick entire clusters of fruit as one, with the stems intact. Tearing the fruits causes almost immediate bruising as the flesh oxidizes and turns an unattractive grayish brown.
What to do with them? I have personally made juice from particularly large loquats, and of this I have fermented some into cider. Loquats also do well in fruit salads, while bakers sometimes use them in crisps and desserts—but whatever you do, do it soon, as the crop, later this year than usual, will wind down in July.
Loquats come in many named varieties, some particularly sweet ones being the vista white, victory, Benlehr, Big Jim, gold nugget and early red. But for now, just try a loquat. Pick favorites later.