I live in an HOA community. There are many things that frustrate me about this, but there are some distinct benefits--like the community guava and loquat trees that dot my morning dog walk. In the winter, I always wear clothing with deep pockets so I can pick the guavas from a neighbor's front yard. Technically they belong to the HOA and no one seems to eat them but the birds, so I pick as many as I can hold on each trip and my kitchen is fragrant with their scent for days as I eat them.
Come March, the loquats ripen. I know of four trees in the community. Only two bear fruit on branches low enough for me to pick, which drives me insane as I think of all that gorgeous fruit that's totally inaccessible. Some years those two are only sparsely loaded at the bottom. But this year one of the trees--the one that gets full sun--started producing early and low. So I've been packing my pockets with them daily for my breakfast. The fruit on the other tree is still kind of green, but there's plenty within reach so I'm psyching myself up for a mother lode that no one else around here seems to appreciate.
If you haven't heard of loquats, I'm not surprised. They're so delicate, bruising so easily and turning brown so quickly that you'll probably never see them in a market--and perhaps not even a farmers market. Native to China, the trees grow beautifully in San Diego and are fairly drought tolerant. The fruit grow in clusters, starting out green and gradually yellowing. Eventually they'll ripen to a smooth orange and look almost like an apricot, but you want to eat them once they're yellow. That's when they have a sweet tang to them. The skin is smooth and thin--no need to remove it--but the fruit does have large, distinctive shiny brown seeds that you don't want to eat. I think the seeds are among the most beautiful in nature, like polished stones.
You can eat the loquats out of hand, of course, but they're also wonderful jammed or roasted with honey, incorporated into a chutney or turned into a sorbet or granita.
And, I learned from my friend Amy Finley, senior editor at Riviera Magazine and a former Food Network Star, that they're delicious pickled. She generously gave me her recipe and I gave it a try.
Amy Finley’s Pickled Loquats
Yield: 1 quart jar
1 pound ripe loquats, trimmed and pitted *
1 1/3 cups hot or boiling water
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Nub of fresh ginger, peeled
1 jalapeño, sliced
Prepare jar/s by washing and boiling. Wash the bands in soap and hot water.
Heat water. Combine cider vinegar, salt, and sugar.
Place trimmed and pitted loquats, garlic cloves, ginger, and jalapeño slices in jar. (Mix them up to distribute flavors.)
Add hot water to cider vinegar mixture. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
Pour the liquid into the jar over loquats, leaving half an inch head space. Top with the lid and screw on the band tightly. Turn the jar upside down and back again to spread the flavor ingredients throughout the jar.
Refrigerate for five days, but if you can be patient, Amy says they’re even better after a week.
*Note: The stem and flower ends of the loquat are fairly unattractive so I trim them. To pit the loquats I found the easiest method was to trim the ends, then make a little slice along one side of the fruit. Open it up gently and use the tip of a paring knife to release the seeds. Usually, there's just one, but check to see if there are two or more, like in the one below. The fruit browns quickly. It won't affect the flavor but you'll want to work quickly and prep the other ingredients before cutting into the loquats.