Much to Make With Loquats, a Little Respected Fruit

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in: Fruit w/recipe

It’s spring in Southern California, and our backyard fruit trees have run riot. Golden yellow loquats the size of my child’s fist hang heavily from two trees, and oranges left over from the winter crop spectacularly cover a 30-foot tree shading my daughter’s playhouse. Our yard looks like a postcard trumpeting the glories of Los Angeles suburbia, circa 1923.

But as with any paradise there’s a dark side. This year, the dark side comes from the loquats. I don’t know what to do with them.

There are so many loquats that our yard has become a hazard. Fully-ripe loquats drop from our trees every five minutes, and as my daughters play in the yard, they grind the soft yellow orbs messily into the lawn and walkway. Still more are up there, some as high as 40 feet, way beyond the reach of our ladder and picking tool. They’ve become a feast for the flocks of squawking, screaming wild parrots in our neighborhood.

These are another holdover from the 1920’s “California is Paradise” meme. Some of the  wild parrots are said to be runaways from the estate of Lucky Baldwin, and the creatures tear the loquats to bits, scattering the seeds and skins across our back yard to mix with the rotting ones.

We have two loquat trees that dominate our backyard, each with slightly different variety of fruit. When we first moved to this house, I had no idea what loquats were and wasn’t even sure they were edible. For several weeks we raked them into huge messy piles and shoved them into the recycling bin. But I couldn’t stand to see this bounty left to rot, so I started asking questions about this small, fleshy yellow fruit. I discovered that loquats are not only edible, they’re downright delicious. My youngest daughter became obsessed with loquats when she was just a year old and ate her weight in loquats that first season.

Don’t sweat the seeds

Over the past few years, I have turned our loquats into loquat cobbler, loquat butter and loquat leather, with varying degrees of success. The biggest problem with loquats is their incredible seed-to-flesh ratio. Each loquat contains one to six large seeds, which means that you get almost as much seed as you do edible flesh in each loquat.

When I first starting researching loquats, I’d read that the seeds were poisonous. Filled with arsenic, and possibly cyanide. The websites were not clear. But like any paranoid mother, I worried that my children might eat them and fall into a temporary coma, just like an unnamed child I’d read about online. Although we’d been eating loquats for several years without incident, I decided to put my fears to rest once and for all by checking with an expert.

I put in a call to professor Jules Janick, director of the Indiana Center for New Crops and Plant Products at Purdue University. He’s not only the co-editor of “The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts,” he is also a kind and understanding voice of reason. Janick told me that loquat seeds are indeed toxic, but then so are the seeds of apples and pears. To put things into perspective, Janick said, “If you ate 3 pounds of them, then it might be a problem.” He also reminded me that the bitterness of the seeds would stop someone from eating them pretty quickly. I realized that my daughter was at far greater risk for choking on a loquat seed than being poisoned by its chemical components.

Backyard loquat adventure

With this in mind, on an April afternoon, I took my loquat-loving youngest daughter to the back yard to begin Loquat Harvest 2013. We planned to fill my daughter’s toy wagon with enough fruit to make loquat leather, but we were quickly distracted by the fun of the collection process. We examined huge spider webs woven between the tree’s broad leaves. We ducked our heads from a torrent of loquat hail that rained down on us as I used our fruit picker to reach an especially high cluster of fruit. But we stopped in our tracks when we discovered a tiny hummingbird’s nest attached to a small wavering branch of our loquat tree. All thoughts of loquat leather disappeared and we marveled at this tiny treasure.

 

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Loquats ripening on the tree in our back yard. Credit: Susan Lutz

Our loquat tree was not only a source of food for humans and birds alike, it was a home. Our loquat trees now feel like an integral part of our own home, one that we happily share with our feathered friends.

I’m still experimenting with new ways to use the backyard bounty, without creating more work than necessary. The simplest approach is to just eat the fruit straight from the tree, spitting out the seeds, of course. But that’s a LOT of loquats to eat.

Our future is sure to be full of new loquat-laced dishes including loquat jelly, loquat chutney and loquat-chicken tagine. Maybe even a batch of loquat ice cream. But even as my family members stuff themselves with loquats, I think that the bounty of Southern California may simply be too much to keep up with.

I may have to ignore much of the fruit of the loquat this year.

And the real beneficiaries, the screaming, squawking, fat and happy parrots.

Loquat-Apple Leather

Ingredients

8 cups seeded loquat halves (approximately 9 to 10 cups of whole, ripe fruit depending on size)

2 cups applesauce (store-bought is fine)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

1. Wash loquats and remove any blemishes and remaining brown bits from stem and blossom ends. Be sure to use ripe loquats, which are softer, sweeter and less acidic than unripe loquats.

2. Cut loquats in half. Scoop out the seeds and white membrane inside the pulpy yellow flesh. Don’t bother to peel them.

3. Make two batches of loquat-apple purée by adding 4 cups of loquat halves, 1 cup of applesauce and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon into blender or food processor. Process until smooth. (The blender does a slightly better job on breaking down the peels than the food processor, but either will work.) Repeat with second half of ingredients.

4. Place a solid tray liner, usually called a fruit roll sheet or non-stick dehydrator sheet, on top of your dehydrator tray.

5. Spread a layer of loquat-apple purée, about ¼-inch thick, onto the solid tray liner. The fruit leather will have a more uniform thickness if you spread the puree slightly thicker around the edges. Be sure to follow instructions for your dehydrator. Some suggest brushing the tray with a thin layer of vegetable oil to the tray liner before adding fruit purée.

6. Place the tray (or multiple trays if you have them) into the dehydrator and dehydrate at 135 F for 4 to 8 hours, until the fruit leather is translucent and can be easily peeled from the tray without falling apart. It may still feel a bit sticky to the touch, especially in the middle.

7. Cut into strips and roll.  Keep in a closed container or bag until ready to eat.

Picking loquats. Credit: Susan Lutz


Zester Daily contributor Susan Lutz is a photographer, artist and television producer. A native of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, she lives near Washington, D.C., where she is writing a book about heirloom foods and the American tradition of Sunday dinner. She also blogs about the subject at Eat Sunday Dinner.

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Comments

rowley
on: 5/14/13
This is our second year with loquats after moving into an old Craftsman house in San Diego. I'm glad you were able to find something worthwhile to do with them. While I was excited to see those little yellow globes initially, I've come to realize the only thing they're good for is the chainsaw. We'll be taking down the loquat trees this year and replacing them with a pair of avocado trees. Here's my take on them: Damn, Another Bumper Crop of Loquats
susan lutz
on: 5/14/13
@Rowley- Part of me hates to hear that you're taking down the loquat trees, but I get it. Boy, do I get it. I enjoyed reading your loquat post. And I must admit that I can think of a lot of delicious ways to cook with avocados...
rowley
on: 5/14/13
At the end of the day, that was why we made the call to replace them. With only so much space for fruiting trees available, it made sense to ditch the insipid loquats and replace them with high-yield better-tasting avocados. Meanwhile, I put our friends on notice: anyone who wants loquats should bring a bucket and go to town on those trees.
Jane
on: 5/14/13
I do love reading your Zester articles, and this one as well. I"ve always liked loquats, and since they are the very first stone fruits of the season I particularly apopreciate them. I realize that it takes a lot of time and effort to pick them all, but if you have too many you could give them away to deserving relatives or friends.
Susan Lutz
on: 5/14/13
@Rowley- It's never occurred to me to adopt a "pick your own" attitude towards our loquats. This could be good.
Laurel Paley
on: 5/14/13
Yum, loquats. Um..... cinnamon? I find it difficult to put those two together in my mind (cinnamon with citrus). Can you think of a different seasoning or spice that would work?
susan lutz
on: 5/15/13
@Laurel- Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) are not citrus. They are actually part of the rose family. I think you may be confusing loquats with kumquats. Loquats don't really taste like any other fruit I can think of, but they have a texture that's similar to an apricot.
Marcella Hazan
on: 5/16/13
"Insipid" loquats? Is it possible that some people don't recognize and appreciate that most paradisiacal of gifts, a ripe fruit? Seeing shoppers put rock-hard peaches and plums and apricots into their baskets at the store would confirm that suspicion. What we would have given in northern Italy to have found ripened loquats at the market.We resorted to ripen them at home bedded in straw. Why do people agonize over what to do with ripe fruit? Why should anyone expect any experience more enjoyable than just eating them, peeled of course in most cases, figs, peaches, and pears, and loquats included.
michlhw
on: 5/16/13
loquats and cinnamon sound delicious! i can imagine that happening. share, share, share them with meeee!
Jimmy Hoxie
on: 5/16/13
I am so envious of the luxury of having such an abundance of fresh produce in just an arms reach of the house! When I first visited LA, I was shocked to see fennel growing wild and free as weeds and citrus dangling from every branch. In Memphis, we have some things that grow quite well, but not year round as you lucky Cali folks. And y'all talk about eating locally. Everything grows there year round. If we only ate locally here, we'd never have citrus, avocados, cherries, or apricots. I know exactly how it is to get lost in a moment while harvesting. Last year, my mother and I were picking plums and blackberries at a local orchard and before we knew it, our baskets were full, as were our arms, pockets, and trunks. Such an amazing thing to harvest your food. Count your abundance as a blessing and share the harvesting if you have more than you can use.
susan lutz
on: 5/16/13
@Marcella Hazan- I agree, Marcella - hurray for fresh fruit right off the tree! The problem around here is that loquats are amazingly abundant and it can be hard for a small family to keep up! I just got home from teaching a group of elementary school students how to make fruit leather. You would have been delighted to see the number of children who said they loved eating loquats fresh from their backyard trees. And now... they love fresh loquats AND loquat leather.
susan lutz
on: 5/16/13
@Jimmy Hoxie- You're absolutely right about the abundance of fresh produce we have growing in our backyards here in Southern California. And it's this abundance that prompted me to become a Master Food Preserver. I wanted to preserve the riches in my own backyard and help others do the same. Another option for sharing the abundance is to contact FoodForward.org, an amazing organization of people who help harvest backyard produce and give it to local food pantries across Southern California.
Nancy Zaslavsky
on: 5/17/13
An L.A. neighbor dropped off a bag the other day (he's inundated!). Inspired by your terrific story I'm peeling them, gingerly picking out the big seeds, and devouring the succulent fruit. Thanks!
harveys mom
on: 5/17/13
i love the loquats in my neighborhood and secretly pull them off the trees on my walk w/the dogs in the morning. yum, they are delicious. thanks for the recipe. i'll be trying it soon!!
susan lutz
on: 5/17/13
@Harveys Mom- I'm so glad the recipe came in handy. Please let me know how it works out for you!
susan lutz
on: 5/17/13
@Nancy- You're lucky to have a neighbor with loquats. Nice to know that others are sharing the wealth.
Fiona
on: 5/19/13
After four years living in China and waiting eagerly for pipa (loquat) season to arrive each year, I'm flying in the face of advice from the first responder and planning to plant my own pair of loquat trees back home here in Australia, their bold glossy dark geen leaves and heavenly fruits will be a handsome addition to our garden. On my last visit back to China I stayed on a tiny island whose primary crop is loquats - they pick the heads of loquat flowers and dry them as a remedy for cough (steeped in hot water like tea), and make loquat jam from the leftovers. Interesting!
susan Lutz
on: 5/20/13
@Fiona- It's fascinating to hear about other uses for loquats-- especially harvesting the flowers for medicinal purposes. I've made loquat butter, but I've never attempted loquat jam. That will be at the top of my list for next season.
scott
on: 6/13/13
Loquats are popularly grown from seed, and many of the trees we see around town (Ventura California) are indeed seedling trees. Often these will produce inferior fruit, and should be grafted over to a good cultivar such as; Golden Nugget, Champagne, or Big Jim, or many other fantastic varieties. These cultivars are not even close to insipid, I doubt you would ever meet anyone who didn't appreciate high quality loquats Seedlings are wild fruits, more or less they are weeds. Cultivars are improved types, either by chance mutation, or careful, or natural hybridizing. I would suggest grafting to your wild roots, and growing a high quality cultivar. I think you would appreciate your decision.
susan Lutz
on: 10/1/13
Scott- This is fascinating information. Thanks so much for writing. Our backyard trees produced two very different fruits and we liked one far more than the other. Your comment is a good reminder that it's important to consider loquat variety, just as I would any other fruit. And I'll view roadside loquats with a bit more skepticism from now on.
Priscilla
on: 4/20/14
It saddens me to drive through neighborhoods in san Diego and all kind fruit tree's heavily hanging with wonderful fruits going to waste. I wish I had the nerve to go up to the doors and ask if I could pick the fruit and say if I pick your fruit for free could I have some to keep? I also love loquat. Being as they are weird people living in this world today I'm scared to ask anyway.
Susan lutz
on: 4/21/14
Priscilla- It is hard to watch delicious ripe fruit going to waste. Loquats are a particular challenge because they're hard to find in stores or even farmers markets since they spoil quickly and are best eaten straight off the tree. If you'd like to help pick fruit for a worthy cause, there are organizations like Foodforward.org that help collect fruit from backyard trees and distribute it to those who need it. I believe they only operate in Los Angeles and Ventura County, but they may be able to help you connect with a similar organization in your area.

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