I must apologise for my lack of serious blogging efforts of late. The sudden rise in temperatures and humidity, rainy days, and my desperation to avoid all things World Cup have taken their toll.
I was planning to write about the loquat as soon as some got harvested at work, but it looked like the heavy rain had damaged much of the fruit and that the bulbuls, azure winged magpies and starlings were getting the rest…
… and then I arrived at work to find two bowls of loquats in the staffroom.
The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)) is believed to be native to sub-tropical China – the English name “loquat” is a corruption of the Cantonese “lo guat” – and brought to Japan over 1000 years ago. It is a hardy broad-leafed evergreen, capable of withstanding winter temperatures of -10℃.
Known as biwa (枇杷) in Japanese, it is a fairly common garden tree, popular for its large dark green foliage, white flowers that bloom in the dead of winter, and sweet fruit in early summer. The caveat is the number of years needed for the plant to bear fruit – we actually had one grown from seed in our garden, but it still didn’t fruit after seven years, and SWMBO decided it had to go.
Japanese folklore says “three years for peaches and chestnuts, eight for persimmons, and thirteen for loquats”.
The egg-shaped or round fruit itself is succulent and fairly sweet, but must be peeled (easily done with the fingers) and the large pips removed, which makes eating fresh fruit somewhat messy.
Canned loquats and loquats in jelly (yum!) are also popular. Biwashu, loquat liqueur, is apparently easy to make, as is loquat jam. (Furthermore, I am told that the best method is to make the loquat liqueur and then use those loquats the next year for jam).
Apparently, the leaves can be dried and used as a kind of tea, which is reputed to be good for skin conditions.
The wood of the loquat is light but hard, and has a long history in the manufacture of walking sticks and wooden swords. Readers of the English translation of Eiji Yoshikawa’s Musashi may remember:
“Next!” shouted Kojirō, brandishing a long sword made of loquat wood. At the beginning he had told them that a blow struck with a loquat sword “will rot your flesh to the bone.”
I have not been able to find any evidence of this assertion by the fictional version of Kojiro being true. Incidentally, it is said that loquat was the real-life Musashi’s material of choice for his own wooden weapons.
I must admit to eying off loquat trees which might possibly be subject to felling or heavy pruning, with the intention of getting some wood for my own weapons…
Anyway, I am always pleased to receive free fresh fruit and have something worth writing about.