Loquats are one of those things that you either know about or you don’t, that are available to you locally, or not, and that you like, loathe, or don’t know because you haven’t tasted them. Whichever groups you fit into, I hope you find something of interest here today.
The loquat (Eriobotryta japonica) comes from the same family as the rose. It is a native of eastern Asia – probably the mountainous regions of central China – and has been cultivated in Japan for over a millennium. Several of the common names for the fruit reflect these origins: it is sometimes known as the Chinese or Japanese plum or Japanese medlar.
The fruit is small with multiple relatively large seeds, but is thin-skinned and soft (which limits its transportability), juicy, and tangy-sweet. It can be eaten fresh, but because of its fragility, it can usually only be enjoyed this way by locals. The seeds do contain poisonous glycosides which in sufficient quantity can be deadly, so particular care should be taken with children who have access to the fruit.
Loquats lend themselves superbly to preservation in syrup, and in the form of jams and jellies, and no story on the use of the fruit would be complete without instructions for preparing these treats, so let’s get recipes for these out of the way first!
The loquat grows well in many parts of Australia, and the Sydney Morning Herald of 5 October, 1937 noted:
Loquats are "in." That statement means a lot to little boys, but it is even more significant to housewives. At present this fruit is so plentiful that many householders are finding a difficulty in using it up. Here are a few recipes that should help women cope with the loquat situation.
First wash the loquats well, split and remove the stalks and seeds, and then weigh. To every pound of fruit allow one pound of sugar. Put the fruit into the preserving pan, covering with cold water. Next day boil slowly till quite soft; add the sugar, and boil again until a very rich colour, skimming very, carefully. Try a little on a plate, and, if it jellies, then it is done.
The Sydney Morning Herald of 5 October, 1937
Required: Loquats, water, sugar, lemon. Wash, top, and stem the loquats, cut them up, covering them with cold water. Boll for two hours. Strain and measure the juice, and to every pint allow one pound of sugar and half a lemon. Put in the preserving pan, and stir until the sugar melts. Then boil till it jellies.
Note: It is not necessary for the fruit to be quite ripe for these recipes
The Los Angeles Times of May 8, 1902 had a feature article on recipes for loquats, quavas, and figs. Naturally, it contained a recipe for making loquat jelly, and as the instructions are a bit more detailed than the above, I include it here:
In making any kind of jelly, use fruit which is just ripe – no more. Cut the blossom end from the loquats; wash or wipe with cloth and cut in half, using skin and seeds. Cover with cold water (about two inches above fruit) and boil slowly until soft. Put in coarse flannel bag and drain over night. Do not squeeze. In the morning, strain juice through muslin bag. Measure juice, and put on to boil, not more than six cupfuls at a time. When it has boiled up once, add equal measure of sugar, and boil rapidly until when dropped from a spoon into a little cold water, it will not run but drop heavily. Have glasses, previously rinsed out in cold water, standing on thick cloth wrung out of cold water. Pour jelly into glasses, hot but not foaming. Stand glasses, uncovered, out of draught, until cold. Keep in cool, dry, dark place.
Now we can get on to some more interesting uses of the loquat. From the Los Angeles Times of June 3, 1906, here is a quite unusual sweet-savoury idea, (perhaps intended for breakfast?)
Loquats a la Espagnole.
Select about three dozen large loquats; remove the seeds and place [the loquat flesh, not the seeds!] in a hot frying pan with two tablespoonfuls of bacon gravy or butter if preferred; salt slightly and cover until well steamed. Then uncover and dust with a very little chilli powder and brown on both sides, watching closely to prevent burning. Half a cupful of granulated sugar added at the last and allowed to form a syrup just before serving, greatly improves this dish.
Too much loquat jelly in the store cupboard? Here is one way to use some of it up, from the same article:
For Loquat Foam (A Quick Dessert.)
Whip the whites of five eggs to a stiff froth; sweeten with two cupfuls of powdered sugar and stir in gradually one cupful of loquat jelly. Serve in sherbet glasses with a teaspoonful of whipped cream on the top of each. A sprinkling of ground nuts added at the last, gives a delicious flavor.
And here are a couple more dessert ideas from same source:
Beat the yolks of four eggs until light; add five tablespoonfuls of granulated sugar, and one cupful of loquat juice. Cook all together, stirring constantly till thick. Remove from the fire, stir in the whites which have been whipped to a stiff snow and sweetened. When cold, serve immediately in custard cups.
For Loquat Dumplings.
Make a crust the same as for apple dumplings: roll out and cut into oblong pieces; put two tablespoonfuls of seeded loquats in the centre of each. Add one tablespoonful of sugar and enclose in the paste. Lay upon a floured baking pan, with joined edges downward and bake about forty minutes. To be served with sweetened cream, or with a hot sweet sauce.