By John Weldon
At one time, almost every second house in the inner west sported a loquat tree – we had one in our first house in Seddon. By the time we moved into that house in the late 90s, loquats were somewhat out of fashion. We’d never seen one before, nor had any of our friends. It was with some trepidation, therefore, that we first tried the fruit, only to be swiftly seduced by its tangy sweetness.
You still see the odd loquat branch or two hanging over a front fence; lobe-shaped, dark green glossy leaves, apricot-like fruit. But, as redevelopment sweeps through the suburbs and houses are knocked down and gardens scraped clean, these trees are disappearing. It’s a shame they’re going, but I can’t really complain as I chopped ours down when I rebuilt the kitchen in the Seddon house. Mea culpa.
Loquats are sometimes referred to as ‘Japanese medlar’ but they are neither a medlar, nor are they originally from Japan, where they are called ‘biwa’. Loquats actually hail from China, where they are called ‘pipa’ and were brought to Europe in the 1600s, becoming very popular in the Mediterranean where they came to be known as ‘mousmoula’ by the Greeks and ‘nespero’ by the Italians. It’s thought the trees were brought to Australia by Chinese migrants in the 1900s, and from there they found their way into backyards across Melbourne’s west.
You can eat loquats fresh from the tree in early spring through to summer. They should have a sweet, but tart, peachy/mango flavour – if they’re too sour they’re not ready. Being high in natural pectin they also make great jam. The leaves are edible, in the form of a tea. Choose leaves that are shiny, but not too tough, dry them and infuse them in hot water for a mild fruity drink, supposedly rich in antioxidants. You can also use the seeds of the fruit to make a liqueur the Italians call ‘nespolino’. It’s a bitter almond-type liqueur, vaguely reminiscent of amaretto, or so they tell me. I’ve never encountered it. If you have a bottle, get in touch. I’d be more than happy to taste it, for journalistic research reasons only, of course. The public has a right to know, you know.
Loquats are easy to grow. Just pop a seed into some potting mix, keep it moist and warm and watch it grow. You can keep your loquat in a pot, but it’ll need to be a big one if you want much fruit. They love full sun and in the ground they can grow up to 8-10 metres, so best to keep them well pruned, but keep the shears in the shed until they’ve finished fruiting.
If you are lucky to (still) have a loquat in your backyard, or you know of one hanging over a fence near you, check out the recipes for jam, tea and nespolino below. And then invite me over for a cuppa, some toast and jam, and a toast. If you’re short on time, we can forget the jam, and the tea, and skip straight to the toast. The public has a right to know. Hic.
Tea recipe: https://wawaza.com/pages/how-to-make-loquat-leaves-tea-biwa-cha-japanese-way/
Nespolino recipe. http://www.icookstuff.com/en/nespolino-liqueur-recipe-aromatic-italian-loquat-seeds-medlar/