In June a neighbor of the City Fruit Beacon Hill office stopped by to ask if we could harvest her loquat tree (“Her what?” one of us thought. “Loquats? Cool - I want to pick them!” thought another. “ I want to taste one!” thought a third.)
“Of course we will harvest your loquats!” said Executive Director Kate.
Then City Fruit harvested them and tasted them, and they were good.
So what are loquats?
The loquat is a large evergreen shrub or small tree native to southeastern China, and distantly related to apples, pears, stone fruit, and medlars. It was first introduced to Japan, and now grows wild in warm regions on six continents. Loquats thrive in a warm, sub-tropical climate. If winter temperatures fall below 30°F, the tree will not flower. Our unusually warm winter was good news for loquat production in Seattle. Loquats look something like a small apricot, 1-2 inches in length, with a fuzzy or smooth yellow or orange skin. The flesh is yellow, white, or orange and is more tart than an apricot, with citrus and mango overtones. Instead of a pit like stone fruit, there are three to five big brown seeds.
The fruit should be left on the tree to ripen for best flavor. Then the stems are clipped individually to avoid tearing of the fruit. Or the entire cluster of fruits can be clipped from the tree. Loquats are eaten fresh, used in cooking tarts and pies, and preserved in jam, jelly, and chutney. Wine is made from the fruit and an Italian liqueur from the seeds. Loquats are known for bruising easily and not storing well as fresh so commercial production is limited. Japan is the largest producer of loquats, followed by Israel and Brazil.
Known as nisperos in Mexico, loquats are in season right around Day of the Dead / Dia de los Muertos (November 1). They are often used as food offerings at Day of the Dead altars.
But, remember, they bear fruit in June in Seattle which makes them a welcome, early treat. All the more reason for celebrating loquats in your neighborhood - keep them in mind for next year!
Barb Burrill is City Fruit's Orchard Advisor.