I think I’d heard of loquats before, but I’m not sure. They certainly don’t grow anywhere I’ve ever lived (Michigan, Ohio or Massachusetts) and if I’ve seen them as I enjoyed the beaches and tropical drinks of warmer climates, I didn’t know what they were.
Recently, I was invited to participate in a Sweet Potato recipe contest for bloggers, sponsored by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. The deadline was coming up quickly, and I felt serious pressure as I rejected all of the usual offerings – sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping, sweet potatoes candied, or my standard sweet potatoes boiled and mashed with Indian spices. It had all been done. Thinking “Iron Chef: Battle Sweet Potato” I went all Bobby Flay on the problem, and considered a sort of hot and spicy Southwestern version of the tuber involving maybe, a sweet sticky substance like honey or jelly, and some diced, fresh chile peppers. If I had actually had the ingredients and been able to let the games begin, I might have worked through it and come up with a side dish to make the angels sing while flames shot out their tiny pink ears. Instead, I kept coming up with reasons that nothing new could possibly be invented. I thought about being sued for stealing a recipe I didn’t know about and winning the competition. I thought about the judges reading my recipe, smiling knowingly at each other, and burying it under the pile of Truly Brilliant Submissions. I gave up.
During this dark moment of procrasteration (that’s procrastination + desperation) I changed my status on facebook to say that I was in the process of devising a sweet potato recipe, and in the comments that followed, there appeared a shining path to salvation. My friend Wes, from high school, now lives in Lake Worth Florida where the loquats grow. He allowed as how loquat jelly might work in my “sweet and spicy” recipe, and offered to send me a jar of the stuff that a friend had made, using the fruit from his trees.This offer didn’t just promise a unique sweet potato recipe; I began to be obsessed with having and tasting something I had never heard of, in the way that I have previously become fixated on truffles, Greek Yogurt, beef cheek, and dark chocolate with chiles in it. A man of his word, Wes had a jar on it’s way to me via Priority Mail, within a day.
This is a good news/bad news story. I received my glowing jar of loquat jelly the day before entries in the competition were due, and while I could have rushed out, bought ingredients and played with recipes all day, I found myself enmeshed in The Balls of Suriname. Somewhere among all of these cooking adventures I have to do some of the kind of work that brings in money, so the sweet potato recipe was abandoned. That’s the bad news. The good news is that after tasting the loquat jelly and finding it sweet, pectin-y and like a cross between apples and pineapple (although it was probably considerably more tart before being cooked with sugar), I knew it was really a perfect match for a sweet potato. I bought several on my regular Saturday grocery shopping trip, and began eating one for lunch every chance I got, with some loquat jelly. No butter, although that would be delicious, just the jelly. It’s pretty healthy, and it tastes kind of like the most decadent, diet-busting sweet potato pie you can imagine with no fat and not even that much sugar if you control the spoon hand.
If I can stop myself from slathering the whole jar on hot sweet potatoes (that sentence is making me weak in the knees) I will still have enough left to try using it in a recipe. I am, however, torn between consumption and hoarding. I have never seen loquat jelly available for purchase here, and all I can find on line are recipes, no “Buy More Loquat Jelly Here, Northerners” site. I think I’m going with the hoarding plan. If you have loquats where you are, make jelly or get someone else to do it, and guilt them into giving you a few jars. If you are in a loquat-free zone, as I am, start making friends. I can see it now: “Florida: Don’t Just Love Us For Our Loquats.”