The Loquat is a member of the same family as apples, pears, and quinces and it's homeland is southern China, where it's called pipa, after the lute, whose shape it resembles. Loquats grow in clusters and are oval or pear shaped with a yellowy orange skin similar in colour to an apricot. The juicy, crisp flesh has a delicate, sweetly tart cherry and pear like flavour. They contain up to 3 seeds that must not be eaten, as similar to apple pips, they contain cyanide.
Also like apples they have a high pectin content and are great for making jam, jelly and chutney. More often Loquats are eaten as a fresh fruit and are sometimes used to make wine. The Loquat's fragile freshness only lasts about ten hours which is the reason why it is a difficult fruit to distribute in the marketplace and why Loquats are rarely available in supermarkets.
Loquats have an alluring perfume and in traditional Chinese lore, the fruit and its blossoms are linked with courtesans. In the 1950's, the flowers attracted the interest of the perfume industry in France and Spain and some experimental work was done in extraction of the essential oil from the flowers or leaves. The product was appealing but the yield was very small. Loquat syrup is used in Chinese medicine for soothing a sore throat. The leaves, combined with other ingredients, it acts as a demulcent and an expectorant, as well as to soothe the digestive and respiratory systems.
The Loquat is steeped in ancient Chinese mythology. For many years only the Chinese royalty was allowed to eat the fruit and it was thought that Loquat fruit falling into the rivers gave the koi, or carp, the strength to swim against currents and up waterfalls and be turned into mythical dragons.
The Western world first learned of Loquats from the botanist Kaempfer in 1690. It was planted in the National Gardens, Paris, in 1784 and plants were taken from Canton, China, to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, England, in 1787. Soon, the tree was grown on the Riviera and in Malta and French North Africa (Algeria) and the Near East and fruits were appearing on local markets. In 1818, excellent fruits were being produced in hothouses in England. The tree can be grown outdoors in the warmest locations of southern England.
In the New World, it is cultivated from northern South America, Central America and Mexico to California: also, since 1867, in southern Florida and northward to the Carolinas, though it does not fruit north of Jacksonville. It was quite common as a small-fruited ornamental in California gardens in the late 1870's. They are sometimes known in the States as the Japanese or Chinese Plum.
There is a super recipe for Turkish Loquat Kebab at the Sarasota Soundings Blog by Holly and Skip – both are accomplished authors. Skip Lombardi is a professional jazz musician and cookery author: La Cucina dei Poveri, Recipes from My Sicilian Grandparents. He also writes about contemporary Italian and American cooking and food-related issues. Holly Chase writes and lectures on the arts and cuisines of the Muslim world and has worked in the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, and Europe. She organizes yacht charters and specialized tours of Turkey at Holly Chase Middle Eastern Travel. Their blog sites are well worth discovering and have some wonderful recipes.