Some names that were thrown around include: nesperas; nisperos; nesperos; nespolas; néflier; Japanese medlar; mishmash; loquats; askadinia.
Thanks, Instagram buddies, for the inconsistent response to a simple ‘what’s the name of this fruit’ question.
To be fair, none of those names were chucked in mean spirit (or indeed directly at me), and neither were any of them wrong. Rather, it turns out the slightly sweet, slightly tart cross between a plum and an apricot to which they all referred just hasn’t locked down an internationally accepted label.
Whilst all commenters seemed to have fond memories of gorging on them during childhood, these fruits didn’t grow among the apples and gooseberries in Worcestershire, so I was a cross between confused and intrigued when I started seeing them at my local greengrocers about a fortnight ago (they’ve dropped to £4.40/kg since, btw).
At first, eating them raw sufficed. The softest, ripest ones were super juicy and refreshing. They’re easy enough to bite into and chow down on – the skin is relatively thin (the blemishes irrelevant) and cute oval seeds can just be picked out.
But after a few I wondered what more they could be used for.
Google, he say mostly jams and chutneys.
But I figured a frangipane tart would be cracking (and found a few days later that the chefs at Petersham Nurseries had come to the same conclusion). I also reckoned they’d work well doused in amaretto and baked, or would make an excellent tart Tatin, and probably a quality upside down buttermilk cobbler cake too (they’d hold well when cooked on account of the pectin in them).
In the end, though, I couldn’t be bothered to make a cake or a tart, and decided to simply poach the little beggars.
I had read that this fruit likes anise, so my poaching syrup contained a few stars, a splash of vanilla essence and some basil leaves (because, well, why not?). Just a few minutes of gentle simmering was enough for the fruit to soften and take on other flavours. Anise is very definitely a good match, and this syrup brings out a perfume quality in the fruit that’s not there when raw and cold. The sweet, grassy basil works wonders.
And then, to go with, another experiment based on a hunch: liquorice cream.
This hunch worked well; both alongside the fruit and as a standalone item. Melting liquorice bits down, then passing the gunk through a sieve before folding through cream, creates a malty, fudgy, faintly anise flavoured cream, which seems to stiffen or seize almost like a ganache. No need to whisk, just stir the liquid liquorice through.
It was a strong dessert and one that I’ll make again. Not least because, thanks to the alliterative association with liquorice, I’ve settled on loquat as the name I’ll use.
Anise and basil poached loquats with liquorice cream
- 500-600g loquats
- 400g water
- 100g caster sugar
- 3 star anise
- 16-20 basil leaves
- 1 strip lemon zest
- 5g vanilla essence
- Juice of half a lemon
- 300g double cream
- 65g good quality liquorice
- 140g water
It’s best to serve the fruit just warm, so either be ready with the cream when poaching the fruit, or do all of this in advance and gently reheat the fruit in syrup five minutes before serving.
To make the liquorice cream, put the liquorice and water in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer and cook for fifteen to twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquorice pieces will melt a little and definitely soften. Before the water cooks off, push with the back of a spoon or, better still, a potato masher if you’ve one with only small holes to break the liquorice in to puree. Then pass this through a sieve into a large mixing bowl. There’ll be lumps left in the sieve – that’s fine (as a guide, I ended with about 40g of melted liquorice). Let the liquorice cool to room temperature. Then add a tablespoon of cream to it, stir to combine, add another couple, stir again, then the rest of the cream, gently folding and combining so the liquorice is evenly mixed and the cream just starts to seize.
For the loquats, first put 400g water, the caster sugar, anise, lemon zest and vanilla essence in a medium sized saucepan (one that’ll hold the fruit, but is not so big that it requires lots of liquid to cover them). Bring to the boil and stir so the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat down.
You need to peel each of the fruits. Don’t grumble – it’s not a difficult or slow task. Squeeze the lemon juice into a bowl and put each piece of peeled fruit into that to avoid discolouration. Cut each fruit in half, remove the seeds and use a pairing knife to peel the skin off. Start at the thinner end of the ‘egg’.
Put the peel fruit halves and lemon juice in the pan and very gently cook – without any bubbles – for eight minutes. Then turn the heat off. Add 4-6 basil leaves, and let the fruit and syrup cool for twenty minutes.
Serve once those minutes are up, or cool and reheat another time. Give everyone three fresh basil leaves and chuck on some flaked almonds or crumbled meringue for texture. A vanilla flavoured sponge or biscuit would also work well.