“Man, these loquats are so sweet…it’s like eating Red Bull!”- Alex Izzarelli’s first taste of loquat fruit.
I really can’t discuss the delectable little Chinese fruits known as loquats without remembering our old friend and Alex and my first boss, Blanch Hunt. Doctors had given this cute little old lady two weeks to live…that was eight years before we met her. She was not just a survivor, but the type of individual who truly appreciated the little things, especially in the garden and orchard.
One afternoon as I raked leaves, Blanch walked out and had a seat next to me to chat while I worked. “Grab me one of loquats will you Raul?” I chuckled handing her one of the peculiar fruits as I reminded her that my name was Kevin. Her last faithful gardener, Raul, had been with her for nearly 10 years, and as long as I worked for her, Blanch called me Kevin only about 2/3 of the time. As I raked a bit more, I watched her out of the corner of my eye. She first peeled the yellow fruit and then proceeded to eat the fruit from around the central pits. “Mmmmm” she said raising her shoulders and squinting with a smile as she savored the satisfaction one only gets when they taste a fruit that is perfectly ripe right off of the tree. “O.K.” I said now convinced I was missing something big, “what is this? A Lo-kwal?” The spell of the sweet fruit was broken as Blanch opened her eyes frowning at me with disapproval and pity “Lo-quat!” she corrected, “have you really never had one?” I shook my head, now realizing that I really was missing something. “Grab another one,” Blanch instructed, “and grab me another one too!” I set down the rake and reached up into the tree. “Not that one!” she laughed, “use your 6’6” height and get us some good ones!” I chuckled and after a little time, located a pair that met her standards. She showed me how to peel them, how to eat around the pits, and how to know I was getting the good ones that afternoon.
Since those days, Alex and I routinely foraged for these fruits throughout the state. One of the great things about this little fruit is that it grows in abundance on the tree, throughout the country and city, and indeed throughout the state of California. As a matter of fact, Alex just returned from New Orleans where he found an abundance of free food in the plentiful loquats growing there.
We had hoped to press and ferment our first batch of loquat wine this year, but with the amount of time I have been dedicating to my Master’s thesis, I did not find ample time for that this year (but we are hopeful for next year). However, with the fruits of my urban foraging adventures with Nicholas Santos the other day, I discovered a new loquat delicacy, Salsa!
A neighbor spied me eyeing an old and very fruitful chilli plant (really more of a bonsai tree) growing curb-side under his kitchen window. He told me in a friendly broken Chinese-English explanation, that the peppers were very hot and that if I saw a ripe one on my walk by one day, I should feel free to grab it and a few others. I don’t think he knew who he was offering this exclusive access to. In a single moment my catchment area had expanded!
The diced foraged chilli, homemade sea salt, foraged lemon juice, foraged loquats, and store-bought cilantro and onion made a perfect blend and an absolutely fantastic salsa. It was so good I said out loud “I can’t believe I didn't think of this sooner!”
Try it for yourself…it would be perfect on fish, but last time we got out spearfishing was the first time I've been skunked in over a year (Nicholas will be posting that day’s successes soon), so I will have to wait until the fish come to us again to try it out.
When you can, don’t go store-bought, letting the wild fruits rot, go out and gather wild foods of any type, don’t pass them up when they’re sweet and ripe! Keep the old ways alive!