If there's anything more prolific than wildflowers right now, it's loquats, those yellowish orange fruits that, despite the name, are unrelated to kumquats but equally as edible.
Haven't heard of them? You're not alone.
Unlike pear, peach or pecan trees that also grow well here, loquat trees are considered ornamental because they don't regularly bear fruit and the fruit can be small and finicky to peel and pit. (Because they bloom in late winter, they are particularly vulnerable to late freezes.) Some homeowners consider them a nuisance because they attract so many squirrels and birds, and the fruit that the animals don't eat rots off the trees and can cause a bit of a mess. This year's bumper crop is likely due to two things: last summer's terrible dry, hot spell and the warm, wet winter. Daphne Richards, the Travis County horticulture extension agent at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service office, says that after a long period of distress, trees will often produce more fruit than necessary in an attempt to ensure a next generation.
Lucky for us, that means more loquats than usual this year. The trees produce more fruit than any one family could eat, but it breaks my little forager heart to see the fruit go unpicked or, worse, unnoticed.
I first fell in love with loquats in Spain, where they are called nisperos and people buy them by the kilo at outdoor markets and in grocery stores. Loquats are beloved from Brazil to Japan, and it's easy to see why once you've eaten a really ripe one: They taste like a cross between a peach and an apricot with a pear-like texture.
I prefer to peel the skin off, but my neighbor Tim is just as happy to bite into the whole thing and spit out the skin and the seeds. The loquats that grow around here can have pretty large seeds compared with the cultivated varieties elsewhere, but they are easy to pop out.
We aren't lucky enough to have our own loquat tree, but I've literally been knocking on people's doors to ask if I can pick theirs. It's illegal to go onto someone's property and pick their loquats, but door-to-door foraging isn't your only option. I bet at least a few of your Facebook or Twitter friends have loquat trees, so consider asking around on social media, and if you find a loquat tree in a public park, you can pick them, as long as you don't damage the tree. Currently, city rules don't explicitly allow you to pick fruit from a tree if it is hanging over a street or a sidewalk, but you can if it's hanging into your yard.
I've gone through more than 15 pounds of loquats this week, making everything from jelly to pico de gallo. Kate Payne, who wrote "Hip Girl's Guide to Homemaking" and teaches canning classes, says the fruits, especially the underripe ones, have quite a bit of pectin, so you often don't need to add commercial pectin to help the jam, preserves or jelly set.
Loquats are one of the more tedious fruits to peel and pit, so in an effort not to have to peel each one, Payne pitted them, left the skins on and pushed the fruit through a food mill to make loquat butter. For her next loquat project, she'll dehydrate pulverized fruit to make a leather and pickle them in a sweet brine.
Robert Mayberry, executive chef at the University of Texas' Division of Housing and Food Service, combined diced loquats with onions, ginger, allspice, sugar, vinegar and guajillo chiles to make a loquat chutney, which he served with wild goose breast. Pastry chef Janina O'Leary at Trace at the W is serving a salted caramel loquat ice cream this week, and Jesse Griffiths is selling chicken liver mousse topped with loquat jam through his online butcher shop, Dai Due.
Local blogger RL Reeves Jr., who heads ScrumptiousChef.com, served a loquat bourbon punch at a party earlier this month, which made me think about other loquat libations.
It's pretty easy to turn a few handfuls of the fruit into a simple syrup that you can use to sweeten lemonade, tea or even Topo Chico. Slice off the end of the fruit that has the dried blossom still attached, pop out the pits and cover the fruit, skin on, with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes. Use a potato masher to squeeze out the juice from the flesh, then use a colander to separate the skins and flesh from the liquid. Measure how much liquid you have and add an equal amount of sugar. Bring to a boil and then let cool.
You also can use loquats to make a shrub, a concentrated mixture of fruit juice, vinegar and sugar that is often used in cocktails and was a popular way to preserve fruits before refrigeration. Blueberries and raspberries are the most common fruits used in shrubs, but loquats work just as well and cost a whole lot less.
Even though I'm hoping to make a carrot cake this weekend and substitute some of the carrots with loquat preserves, loquats aren't just for drinks or desserts. You could use the juice, fruit or syrup in a marinade for chicken or pork, and the loquat pico de gallo recipe on this page was a hit at the office.
Now is the perfect time to experiment with this underappreciated fruit. Who knows when we'll have as good a crop again and they don't cost you a dime. Sure, you might have to drum up the courage to ask a neighbor you've never met if you can pick a pound or two from his or her tree, but maybe you'll make an acquaintance while you're at it.
Contact Addie Broyles at 912-2504 Stay up-to-date with the latest food news by following Addie on Twitter (@broylesa).
Loquat Pico De Gallo
1 cup chopped loquats, seeded and peeled
1/2 cup diced tomato
1/3 cup diced red or white onion
1/2-inch piece jalapeño, minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
Combine ingredients in a medium bowl, mixing thoroughly. Let rest for about 10 minutes before serving to help the flavors meld. Serve with tortilla chips. Serves 4.
- Addie Broyles
3 cups chopped loquats, seeded
1 1/2 cups vinegar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
Sparkling water, tonic water, white wine, etc. for mixing
In a nonreactive bowl, combine loquats and vinegar. Cover and place in the refrigerator for three days. Once a day, mash and stir the mixture, cover and place back in the fridge. On the third day, strain the fruit from the remaining liquid, discarding the skin and mashed fruit. Combine liquid and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat and let cool. Combine about 1/4 cup of the concentrate with your choice of mixer and serve over ice. Store any extra shrub in the refrigerator for up to a month.
- Addie Broyles
3 lb. loquats
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
Juice from 1 large lemon, strained
Seed loquats by halving them from pole to pole. Place them in a stock pot large enough to contain them. Cover halves with just enough water to completely submerge the fruit.
Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to keep loquats at a low boil for about 15-20 minutes. You want the loquats to be still intact, but tender and soft. Drain off liquid. (You can reserve the liquid and turn it into loquat syrup by adding sugar and bringing to a boil in a saucepan.)
Mill loquat halves on the medium screen of a food mill. (I did just one pass through the mill, but if you are looking for a fine, velvety, spotless butter, you might want to run it through the fine screen after the medium one.)
You should have about 3 cups of loquat puree now. Place puree in a wide-based, heavy-bottomed pot and add sugars and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until mixture starts to thicken and the bubbles get larger (about dime-sized) and begin to space out. Stir periodically to make sure the sugar is not scorching on the bottom of the pan.
Refrigerate and/or freeze or seal jars in a waterbath canner with a 10 minute processing time. Makes 4 half pints.
- Kate Payne, hipgirlshome.com