Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It's loquat season in L.A.!

I'm 6 years old and being held aloft by my rib cage, just under my arms.  Just beneath me is a black, slightly spiked metal fence, its points just grazing my knees as I stretch, stretch, str-e-e-e-e-tch towards a tantalizingly out-of-reach cluster of fruit on the neighbor's tree.

My parents and I are stealing loquats.  I am complicit in an act of fruit thievery.

Even though I grew up in Chicago, my family would spend its spring breaks here, in Echo Park, Los Angeles, and spring break was loquat season (late March to late May).  Chicago during that season was a wasteland of slush and icy dirt, occasionally punctured by prematurely hopeful crocuses.  To fly off to a different land and steal fresh, juicy, tangy fruit directly off trees while all my friends at home shivered and ate out-of-season red apples was a source of great joy.

My memory may fail me here, as my memory has a tendency to invent dramatic additions to childhood experiences, but it tells me I'd fill my sweatshirt pockets with handfuls of the strawberry-sized loquats before my mom or dad or I would hear some noise, some gate slamming, some dog barking, and they'd hastily hustle me back over, my clothes snagging on the fence, and we'd sprint back down the hill, loquats jiggling out of my pockets and leaving a telltale trail.

As an adult, living on the same street as the former site of my crime, the trees look eminently (and disappointingly) reachable. I barely have to stand on tiptoe.   The tree behind the spiky fence is gone.  The new nearest tree, only two houses away, is owned by an amiable man who relaxes in his deck chair and watches me gather them.  His dog presses herself against the fence for a scratch, and that's all they ask in return.  A few more trees, further down the hill, hang over the sidewalk as if to say, "Here I am.  Look how easy this is.  Your days of excitement and petty theft are over."

Strangely enough, even the loquats coat backyard trees all over the city, most people I meet don't know what loquats are, and if they do know what they are, they don't know that they're edible.  This is changing, slowly - I've occasionally seen bunches of loquats on sale in markets, and there have been a few blog posts about them in recent years.  But when I was a child, no one I knew was eating them.  They felt like a family secret.

We'd run into the house with our smuggled booty and empty it out onto the living room table.  The fruit would roll all over the table like soft marbles as we grabbed paper towels from the kitchen.  Then, whoever had the best thumbnails would pierce the skin at the steam and start peeling.

Loquats taste like a cross between an apricot, a grape, and a pear.  They range from tart to sticky-sweet, yellow to orange, and oblong to spherical.  They're one of those labor intensive fruits with a low flesh to skin/seed ratio (see also: pomegranate, coconut, mango, rambutan, pineapple, mangosteen...), but note that those types of fruits are usually insanely delicious, otherwise people wouldn't bother.  Loquats are no exception.


So.  How can YOU find some loquats for yourself before the short loquat season is up?  There are two ways: the lazy way and the right way.

Lazy Way: Go to a market.  Try your local farmers market or any Middle Eastern, Eastern European, or West Asian grocery.  Wholesome Choice or Super King are probably good bets.  But I hope you're OK with paying out the nose for something you can probably pluck off a tree right on your block.

Right Way: Take a walk.  Keep your eyes peeled.

Look for this.
You will see them.  By blog-law I am probably required to advise you to ask your neighbors before gathering their fruit, so consider yourself advised.  Also consider the dubious source of this advisement.

1 comment:

  1. I'm ashamed to say I'm woefully underversed in the loquat!