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Exotic little fruit adds tropical taste to spring

Recipe: Loquat sauce a versatile topping

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Among the first stone fruit of summer, loquats can be used like peaches. (Photos: Debbie Arrington

The first loquats I ever ate grew on a mystery tree that sprouted in the back of our Long Beach yard. (I assumed it was planted by birds.)

The fast-growing tree had interesting, textured foliage, making it a handsome volunteer. The roundish yellow fruit were a bonus.

But what to do with them? First, remember loquats have nothing to do with kumquats. Think peach, not citrus.

Loquats seem to be all big brown seeds, wrapped in juicy fruit. The flesh is tangy, almost tart, until fully ripe when loquats become honey sweet.

Nicknamed Japanese plum, the loquat has been cultivated in Japan for more than a thousand years. Native to China, it’s also very popular in Korea, India and Pakistan. Loquat comes in several varieties, most 1 to 2 inches long and born in clusters. The skin may be smooth or downy, yellow or orange or blushed with red. The flesh ranges from creamy white to apricot orange.

Loquats are among the first stone fruit of spring, but they have a big head start. With fragrant white flowers, the trees bloom in October or November. If the winter is mild, the loquats ripen in April and May.

Loquats have a tropical taste; part peach, citrus and mango. Such a combination is worth the effort it takes to peel and seed these small fruit.

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Loquat sauce goes equally well in sweet or savory dishes.

As for what to do with them, loquats can substitute for peaches in a wide range of recipes. But I think they’re best when their individuality is allowed to stand out, complementing that sweet-tart tropical taste.

This sauce is equally at home on top of pork tenderloin or vanilla ice cream. It also works well with grilled chicken, roast duck or flan.

Experiment with spices. For savory dishes, add ¼ teaspoon of red chili flakes or ground ginger along with the jelly.

Also, try substituting ½ cup fresh strawberries for half the sliced loquats, then use strawberry jam as the sweetener; a very good combination with grilled pork or pound cake.

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The big seeds are a distinguishing feature of loquats.

Quick loquat sauce
Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

1 cup loquats, peeled, seeded and sliced
Juice of ½ orange (about ¼ cup)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons pear jelly, strawberry jam or orange marmalade

Instructions :

Wash fruit gently and peel, removing the bloom end and stem. Cut each loquat in half, remove seeds and any tough surrounding membrane. Slice fruit into eighths. Toss slices with orange juice.

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Once the ingredients are in the pan, the sauce goes quickly.
In a nonstick pan over medium heat, melt butter. Add fruit and any accumulated juices to the pan. Reduce heat to low. Cook the loquats until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add jelly, jam or marmalade to the pan. Blend it into the pan juices, stirring continuously, until this sweetener is melted. Stir to blend well with fruit. Serve warm.

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RECIPE

A recipe for preparing delicious meals from the bounty of the garden.

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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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