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Daily Gullet Staff

Letter from the Canyon

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1173548013/gallery_29805_1195_10533.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Priscilla

I’d 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. I’d bought them a few times, piled in repurposed plastic strawberry baskets, from a favorite type of farmer’s market vendor, the type of vendor that you just don’t see in many farmer’s 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 farmers’ 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 she’d 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 farmer’s 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. Wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of ’em. Wouldn’t want to be caught trying to resell commercial product as my own, for instance, or shorting that week’s 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 don’t 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 Park’s 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. She’s 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 hadn’t 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, I’m giving you one more chance. Plants with deadly thorns ought not be so demanding, I don’t 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 weren’t affected. The tree looks OK, but I realize I’m fond of seeing them, and I don’t want to wait another 10 years.

<div align="center">* * * * *</div>

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

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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

That would have been my mother, shelling peas or knitting to prevent idle hands and forestall the wrath of a formidable British aunt, who apparently made an indelible impression some seven decades previously.

It was run with the archetypal iron fist in a velvet glove by a local branch of the American Association of University Women.

This amuses me greatly, as my strikingly mild-mannered mother belongs to the AAUW.

You paint vivid word-pictures. Nicely done! I cannot recall trying a loquat before, but now I am curious. Do they travel well, or would that be missing the point?

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It was run with the archetypal iron fist in a velvet glove by a local branch of the American Association of University Women.

This amuses me greatly, as my strikingly mild-mannered mother belongs to the AAUW.

Thank you very much, Bruce. Ladylike mild-manneredness in no way precludes a spine of steel, in my experience. Somebody did a very good job with you, eh?

I bet there are seasonal loquats in your region... they are worth trying, can be almost lychee-like in flavor and texture when really good.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Lovely, Canyon Girl.    Never tasted one.  Gonna now.

Thank you, Rachel. If you happen upon a good supply maybe there'll be some loquat preparations added to your put-up treasures.

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Lovely, Canyon Girl.    Never tasted one.  Gonna now.

Me too.

I must add that since my very first reading of this piece the vision of the ladies in the loquat tree has floated in my head like the memory of a beautiful Japanese woodblock print. Thanks, Priscilla.


Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

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1912-2008

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margaretmcarthur.com

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Lovely, Canyon Girl.    Never tasted one.  Gonna now.

Me too.

I must add that since my very first reading of this piece the vision of the Japanese ladies in the loquat tree has floated in my head like the memory of a beautiful Japanese woodblock print. Thanks, Priscilla.

Thank you, Maggie.

What I have seen as depictions of greengage plum boughs on Japanese dishware and other goods I now think, like to think, loquats.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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. . . . .

I bet there are seasonal loquats in your region... they are worth trying, can be almost lychee-like in flavor and texture when really good.

In fact-checking and researching for the illustration, I came across this summary, from the USDA:

Loquat originated in middle-western China and is widely cultivated in the subtropical regions of Southern China, Japan, Israel and Mediterranean area. In the U.S., loquats grow in Hawaii, California and the Gulf states.

But I also found mentions of loquat production in agricultural extension bulletins as far north as West Lafayette, Indiana (aka, in this context, Purdue University).


Dave Scantland
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Eat more chicken skin.

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Ladylike mild-manneredness in no way precludes a spine of steel, in my experience.

Agreed. Ample evidence demonstrates the steel in my mother’s spine, but some types of steel are more visible than others. My mother would chew off her arm before making others feel uncomfortable in any way, much less “brooking no nonsense, suffering no fools, kicking ass and taking names”. :biggrin:

I'll keep an eye out for loquats this spring. Thanks for the article, and the kind words. :smile:

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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.

Priscilla, this image will remain in my mind forever.

I like to imagine that someday, you and your neighbor will climb her tree, up to the top of it, on a fine sunny morning, and eat loquats together, smiling.

And that from then on, it will happen everywhere, all around the world. Sightings will become rare but known, of women who have climbed right up into the treetops where the loquats are soft and ripe and luscious, to rest in the boughs for a bit and smile, while they lay back against the sun-spattered leaves allowing the sweet loquat juice to fall upon their elegant clothes carelessly.

I, myself, intend to do it some day. :smile:

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But I also found mentions of loquat production in agricultural extension bulletins as far north as West Lafayette, Indiana (aka, in this context, Purdue University).

Thanks Dave! I would not be surprised if they appear in old-fashioned backyard orchards all over the place.

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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I, myself, intend to do it some day.  :smile:

CT, a lot of my friend's crop hangs conveniently over the fence at about eye level -- real decadence, a rare enough thing for which I am always on the lookout, is to be able to casually pick a piece of fruit off a tree without undue effort.

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Lovely, Canyon Girl.    Never tasted one.  Gonna now.

Loquats taste similar to the hairy red rambutans. I love eating chilled canned loquats and then drinking the canned juice afterwards.


Doddie aka Domestic Goddess

"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"

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Loquats taste similar to the hairy red rambutans. I love eating chilled canned loquats and then drinking the canned juice afterwards.

DG, I never thought of looking among the canned fruit at the pan-Asian supermarket.

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Your description of the market sounds like the one (hopefully) ongoing in Uptown New Orleans, complete with card tables and similar produce. But no one would think of paying for loquats there! AKA "Japanese apricots," the trees grow on every block.

I once made a delicious loquat sauce with fruit from our neighbor's tree, which conveniently overhung our garden wall. The sauce was a perfect accompaniment to a Chinese-spiced deep-fried duck. I got the recipe from Alice Waters' Fruit cookbook- I think there are other loquat recipes in there, as well.

Seeding them was a pain in the rear. But the delicate sauce was worth it.

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Your description of the market sounds like the one (hopefully) ongoing in Uptown New Orleans, complete with card tables and similar produce. But no one would think of paying for loquats there! AKA "Japanese apricots," the trees grow on every block.

I once made a delicious loquat sauce with fruit from our neighbor's tree, which conveniently overhung our garden wall. The sauce was a perfect accompaniment to a Chinese-spiced deep-fried duck. I got the recipe from Alice Waters' Fruit cookbook- I think there are other loquat recipes in there, as well.

Seeding them was a pain in the rear. But the delicate sauce was worth it.

Ha! Loquats for everyone!

You are so right, Scottie, when describing the flavor as delicate.

I shall point out the Alice Waters title to my friend, in case (in hopes?) that this year's is a typically abundant crop.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Thanks Priscilla,

That was beautiful and gave a waft of spring to my winter weary brain. It's snowing in Toronto today.

Boohoo,

Ivy

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Thank you very much, Ivy.

While hoping you are safe and warm, I envy you your snow, here in the depths of a drought.


Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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Ahhhh... I love how you purchased them in a farmer's market. After citrus it's probaly one of the most frequently grown fruit trees I've run into in sourthern CA. And hardly anyone even knows what they are. We're so spoiled that we forget sometimes that fruit comes from trees and not markets. Good eye on spotting one. Being able to identify various plants around us is like seeing the forest through the trees. (Insert winking emoticon here)


Scooby Doo can doo doo, but Jimmy Carter is smarter

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6P2G, I have learned a lot a lot a lot from farmers at markets over the years.

Never seen a loquat in a regular store, although they well may be there, canned, as Domestic Goddess indicated above, or fresh in season -- I just never look.

What with my friend's tree right around the corner and all, they are more like a foraged fruit to me. But then I have also foraged for pomegranates from a forgotten tree on the grounds of a luxurious hilltop house that burned to the ground long before I was on the scene, and grape leaves from neighbors' vines, until I had my own.

ETA in an i.


Edited by Priscilla (log)

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ● Twitter Instagram

 

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