What is a medlar?

Loquat has been used to make cough syrup.

A loquat is both a tree and its fruit, believed to have originated in China. At least 1,000 years ago, the Japanese began to cultivate the loquat. Loquats are now grown in the Middle East, parts of Europe and Africa, Brazil, Hawaii, and throughout California.

Californians began to cultivate this tree in the 19th century. The tree is evergreen and makes a nice addition to landscaping. Also, loquat blooms in late autumn or early winter when there are few flowers available. The trees bear fruit in early spring, so it’s the first summer-like fruit to appear.

Loquat has a relatively high pectin content and can be a valuable addition to jams or jellies.

The height of the tree is variable, ranging from 10 to 30 feet (about 3 to 9 m) in height. Generally, unless a loquat is well established, the trees are in the shortest range. The fruit itself has a soft, downy exterior comparable to an apricot in size and color, but not in shape. The loquat is shaped like a teardrop or pear and is usually no more than an inch long.

Medlars sometimes appear in fruit salads and cobblers.

The loquat fruit is generally consumed as in most cultures. However, it has a relatively high pectin content and can be a valuable addition to jams, jellies or chutneys. Some find the taste slightly acidic, but the acidity decreases if the fruit is eaten fully ripe. Loquats have an exotic flavor, a cross between passion fruit and guava. Their sweetness makes them a perfect substitute for more calorie-dense desserts.

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Loquats are also lovely in fruit salads and baked fruit desserts like cobbler. Adventurous winemakers have also created a loquat wine. Others roast lamb or ham with loquats. The Chinese use loquat to make cough syrup.

Both the outside and inside of the loquat are edible, although some prefer to peel the fruit. The three or four seeds, which look a bit like hazelnuts, are inedible as they contain a small amount of cyanide. In any preparation of loquat, the seeds must be discarded.

Although the loquat enjoys great popularity in parts of Asia and South America, with Japan being the biggest producer, in California these tempting fruits are largely ignored. The fruit is often dropped on the ground, and few recognize its delicious potential.

This writer will never forget discovering the medlar when he grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. After long winters of consuming apples that continued to decline in quality, the loquat trees laden with fresh fruit were a welcome change. Trees could often be found in abandoned backyards or on business grounds, and most business owners were more than happy to allow children to pick up as many trees as they could handle.

If one is not lucky enough to live in an area where loquat is grown, the fruit is usually available in Asian or Hispanic markets. Medlars can also be ordered online during the season. Marmalade and loquat jellies can be found all year round on the Internet or in specialized supermarkets.

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