The Lowdown on Loquats
Quick: what local fruit is golden yellow-orange when ripe and is in season late winter-early spring? No, it’s not citrus. Here’s a hint: it’s in the Rosaceae family, and it's related to the apple, pear, peach and nectarine.
(It also may be growing in your own backyard.)
Okay, okay. Enough suspense. We’re talking about the luscious loquat!
Loquats are an underutilized, yet abundant, fruit that are very common to Northeast Florida landscapes. While some may eat a loquat fruit straight from the tree, most people don’t even consider using them as an ingredient in recipes, simply because they don't know it's an edible fruit.
Included in this crowd was Chef Kenny Gilbert of Gilbert's Underground Kitchen in Fernandina Beach. Until the fruit literally fell at his feet, he didn’t realize he had edible gold growing in the backyard of his restaurant in Fernandina Beach. “I was stepping on this fruit and asked one of my cooks what it was,” recalled Chef Gilbert. “I’m glad we did not cut down the trees!”
Once he discovered how delicious and versatile the loquat can be, Chef Gilbert and his staff started to create recipes that highlight the sweet-tart flavor of the fruit as well as complement the dishes on the menu. Since the fruit is small, removing the pits inside is a bit of a hassle (but required), and fortunately Chef Gilbert recommends leaving the skin on when cooking them. So far the team has conjured up loquat hot sauce, jelly and barbecue sauce, both for in-house use and for customers to take home. Whether you have your own trees, or ask your neighbors if you can glean some from their trees, check out the lovely loquat this winter. You may be surprised by these edible treasures hiding in plain sight.
Have an abundance of loquats? Try making Chef Kenny's Loquat BBQ Sauce for your next gathering around the grill!