Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where does he think food comes from?

Haven't posted much lately, I know. Sorry. Health issues in part, plus the fact that it's just been too pretty to be at a keyboard even if I had bokashi-related things to post (which this post isn't, so don't say I didn't warn you). And then there's the fact that it's loquat season.

Don't know the loquat? You're not alone. Here in the US, this delicious fruit is a sadly under-appreciated "backyard crop"; if you don't grow it yourself, chances are you won't ever have the chance to eat the things. Except possibly canned and imported from another country.

(Oddly, Texas chain grocer HEB carries loquats in syrup in its upscale house brand. According to the label, it's a Product of Mexico.)

This relative of roses and apples is delicious raw or cooked, and here in Austin, is easy enough to grow that many people--sadly, not including me!--can harvest bushels of fruits even from potted specimens. Given a sunny spot in the ground, fruits are nearly inevitable. Even in drought years. That photo above is a fair representation of a tree/bush in fruit; seasonal abundance in spades!

But people here don't eat the things. Sold as a zone-hardy evergreen ornamental, nursery and catalog listings tend not to mention the fruits at all. The word "edible" almost never appears on labels. And as far as which species makes the best fresh-eating or cooking use, forget it. Why should growers bother to include that information? It's not as if anyone grows them for the fruit...

I have a dozen or so tested and proved loquat recipes, and friends with loquats and freezer space, so I've been playing in yards and kitchens all over the city. Have a tree with ripe fruits? Great! I'll be right over. Let me take some home, and in exchange I'll fill your freezer, oven, food drier, etc. Really. Anything to avoid having to see those yummy fruits rotting on or beneath the tree.

Jonathan Bloom over at Wasted Food promotes community-based gleaning. A great idea! But though I wish it would, I don't believe it would work for loquats. Like mulberries, loquats are simply not considered worthwhile, here, as a food, even by most of those who know they can be eaten.

I've been trying to wrap my head around that for years. Mulberries, I can kind of understand, more or less, if I try--depending on the species and growing conditions, they can be rather bland. (Though they're an easy way to add sweetness to baked goods, and mulberry "raisins" are surprisingly tasty additions to a great many recipes.) But loquats? Delicious, sweet-tart, juicy Japanese plums? Lovely sunset-colored biwa? Incredibly floral-fruity Chinese Medlars? How could anyone choose not to eat these?

Doesn't matter what name you give them, the attitude here doesn't change. I'm hoping Frieda's or some similar exotic-foods emporium will adopt the things, because last year, someone finally articulated the problem in a way even I can understand:

"If it was food," he told me, sneering as I offered him a freshly-picked loquat half dripping with juice, "it would be at the grocery store."

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