Iíd never given much thought to loquats, pretty yellow small fruits which look a little like a slightly pointy apricot or plum, although I was not 100% unfamiliar with them. Iíd bought them a few times, piled in repurposed plastic strawberry baskets, from a favorite type of farmerís market vendor, the type of vendor that you just donít see in many farmerís markets anymore -- elderly locals, ladies mostly but not exclusively, selling on folding card tables what grew in their venerable suburban backyard mini orchards. (I also like the flowers that these same houses often have: big hydrangeas at a shady front corner, naturalized Amaryllis Belladonna crowding the planting strip along a sunny side.) Often there was an improbably huge old boat of a car, original owner situation, pulled in behind them, in among the farmersí trucks, commodious trunk yawning open.
Along with loquats, pineapple guavas, Persian mulberries and perfectly ripe figs appeared on those card tables too. And one nice lady, even though there was little chance of idle hands at this busy market, while selling would also be shelling English peas into yet another strawberry basket -- peas sheíd picked that morning from her back yard, and that evening starred in risi e bisi on my dinner table.
Of course this was an especially good farmerís market, and not just because it was my local. It was run with the archetypal iron fist in a velvet glove by a local branch of the American Association of University Women. Mere mention of the AAUW may not strike the same terror in the hearts of others that it does in mine, but where I lived its members were, to a woman, formidable -- brooking no nonsense, suffering no fools, kicking ass and taking names for all sorts of good causes. Wouldnít want to be on the wrong side of íem. Wouldnít want to be caught trying to resell commercial product as my own, for instance, or shorting that weekís local food charity fruit and veg donation box. No sirree. And we all benefited.
After I moved away from that market and its card-table vendors (whether through natural attrition or different rules at different markets, you just donít seem them any more), I thought about loquats even less.
A decade or so after my last card-table vendor loquat, I was in Coronado near San Diego staying in the then-Le Meredien with my family. Our room opened out onto a shared courtyard with a beautiful koi pond, part of an extensive, natural-looking water feature that ran all around the hotel property. What we were attracted to first was not koi, but ducks -- a mother duck had a whole string of ducklings following her, and we followed them all around the grounds. They even went up a little rocky waterfall, the babies popping like corn kernels until they made it up there with their mother.
But we loved the koi, too. (My koi fixation was firmly cemented during many childhood trips to Buena Parkís late, lamented Japanese Deer Park, where one could buy koi food from vending machines and the big fish would burble up to the surface and eat from your hand. One could also buy dove food and feed gorgeous pure white doves, as well as food for the eponymous deer, tiny adorable things who would crowd around to be fed -- quite a trip, not to say sensory overload, for an animal-loving little girl.)
And we were not the only ones soaking in the loveliness of the garden and the fish. Two very old, elegant Japanese ladies were also hanging out in the courtyard, petting the koi and talking to them and each other. They smiled so nicely at my child that I could tell they were fine people and liked them immediately. The pond was enclosed by a smooth seat wall, and graceful, carefully tended trees draped over it.
One afternoon preparing to leave the room to go visit the Star of India tall ship, I believe, the trees outside were shaking and shaking, and as we stepped outside we saw the two elegant Japanese ladies up in the tree, way up there, picking (and hungrily eating) loquats. It was pretty astounding -- they had to be octogenarians. But when they were in that tree they were more like 8 year olds. They were a bit taken aback at our intrusion, and looked at each other, but we just smiled at them and went on our way. Later, we ate a loquat ourselves.
When my neighbor, who is also a friend, bought a cabin around the corner here there were some mature but neglected trees on the property. Sheís a gardener, and set about saving what she could and culling as necessary. One tree, on the side of her garden that I have to pass on the way to my house, was in especially sad shape. It got pruned and fed and watered like the rest, and soon it was all glossy green leaves and stretching, arching new growth.
And, presently, unmistakably, loquats. It was a loquat tree. I hadnít seen one since the then-Le Meredien a decade earlier. It puts out such a bountiful crop that my friend makes loquat butter and loquat chutney and we eat a bunch in the as-is state as well. Lots of things froze during recent historic low temps -- benighted variegated Raspberry Ice bougainvillea, Iím giving you one more chance. Plants with deadly thorns ought not be so demanding, I donít think. (Two-inch tall fava bean sprouts having lain down looking like total goners, two days later were back up and had grown another half inch.) I hope the loquats around the corner werenít affected. The tree looks OK, but I realize Iím fond of seeing them, and I donít want to wait another 10 years.
Priscilla writes from a Southern California canyon with the predictable attendant population of militant environmentalists, amateur naturalists, itinerant notaries, entrepreneurial winemakers, and llama farmers.
Photo reference: University of Florida IFAS Extension Service, Okeechobee County