Look out for loquats

loquats

Loquats are delicate, delicious and a bit difficult to find. (Photo by Laura Groch)

A community church group was selling loquats recently, five yellow, larger-than-a-grape-but-smaller-than-an-apricot fruits for a dollar. So I took home a bag.

They seemed ripe enough, softish to the touch, but I really didn’t know much about them. Taking a knife to them, I was able to pull off the fuzzy peel without much difficulty, but when I sliced into the fruit, oh my! Three large, hard seeds awaited, and not much room for fruit left around them. Still, we ate, we liked, we waited for the next sale.

Then a friend called: Her husband had acquired several grocery bags full of loquats. Would I like some? Of course. (Hey, free …)

And as my husband and I ate our way through the ripest ones, we grew to like these little fruits even more. The taste is light, sweet, a bit tart but not overly so. They are botanically related to apples, but to me they are similar to apricots in taste and texture, down to the fuzzy peel (but certainly not the seeds). A look online told me the seeds are emphatically NOT edible, and are even toxic.

My friend was cooking hers down into jam. I blanched my fruits and peeled them, preparatory to freezing, then thought better of it and decided to cook mine also.

I added about a half-cup of sugar to about three cups of peeled, sliced fruit and a splash of lemon juice, and simmered it over medium heat for about 90 minutes, mashing the fruit a bit to help break it up.  The fruit exuded quite a bit of liquid, though, so by the time I was done, I had more of a fruit topping than a jam.

No matter. It still tasted great over waffles and pancakes, and probably would have been equally good over ice cream or as a smoothie ingredient. But it didn’t last that long. ;<)

I looked up loquats in my cookbook collection, but came up empty. A trip to the library also proved fruitless, pardon the pun, yielding only one recipe for loquats as part of a shish kebab recipe from a book on Turkish cuisine.

That recipe made me think of Vista’s Kitty Morse (www.kittymorse.com), an expert in Middle Eastern and especially Moroccan cooking. Her most recent book is “Mint Tea and Minarets: A Banquet of Moroccan Memories,” and her best-seller, now in its ninth printing, is “Cooking at the Kasbah: Recipes From My Moroccan Kitchen.”

So I emailed Kitty. “Do I know about loquats?” she responded via email. “We had to get rid of our tree, it was so prolific. You don’t make much with them except eat them out of hand.

“What I love about the fruit is its name in Moroccan Arabic: ‘lamzeh,’ which means ‘joke.'”

Kitty added that in Algeria, large loquats are stuffed and baked as a dessert, somewhat like baked apples, with a brown sugar and cinnamon mixture.

You can find information about growing your own trees at the California Rare Fruit Growers website (http://www.crfg.org/pubs/ff/loquat.html). According to the CRFG, loquats come in several varieties, but you won’t see them at big commercial markets because they are difficult to harvest. Farmers markets and ethnic markets may have them in small quantities, though, so keep an eye out. The season lasts roughly from March through June.

The USDA National Nutrient data base lists loquats as being high in Vitamin A and potassium, and about 70 calories per cup of fruit.

Loquats have a high sugar, acid and pectin content, according to the CRFG, making them similar to apples for jam makers. The flesh is more delicate, though. Try them in fruit cups or anyplace you’d use an apricot. Loquats have a short shelf life, too, so when you do find them, eat up!

P.S. Kitty Morse has a presentation and book signing coming up from 2-3 p.m. June 14 at the La Mesa Library, 8074 Allison Ave.: “A Taste of Morocco” with sampling; book signing to follow;  e-mail: jsexton@sdcounty.ca.gov; call 619-469-2151. Thanks again, Kitty!

 

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

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