Native Californians are unfazed by this bounty. But I grew up in New York, and I still get a thrill every time I see a tree heavy with oranges or pomegranates or apricots. It's strange that there are so few fruit-bearing trees on Long Island where I grew up, actually - the climate is fine for apples, pears, cherries, anything that needs a winter chill. But somehow, fruit trees didn't fit into the planned subdivisions of the New York suburbia in which I was raised. Was it because no one wanted to clean up after them? Because they thought the fruit wouldn't survive on the East coast without pesticides? I really don't know, and back then I didn't know what I was missing.
But now, living in Los Angeles, I can't get enough of backyard fruit. When we bought our house in Santa Monica 13 years ago, the first thing I did was plant more fruit trees. The yard had avocado, lemon and fig trees when we moved in; over the years I've added several Meyer lemons, a Santa Rosa plum, a Mexican lime, and a kumquat that, sadly, has never fruited, though it's not dead either. We lost a few young citrus trees that, out of ignorance, I planted right where we'd had a eucalyptus removed; apparently eucalyptus leaves unpleasant residue in the soil for quite a while, and it was too much for the clementine and navel orange babies.
My neighbors and work friends are starting to understand that if they share their backyard fruit with me, I will return it in the form of delicious treats. That's how I ended up with the kumquats that made it into last week's kumquat bread. And it's how I got several pounds of loquats over the past week from my coworkers Tonia and Scott, whose loquat tree is turning out so much fruit the squirrels and birds can't even keep up. I turned the loquats into jam by peeling, seeding and chopping them, then stewing them with sugar. And then, because Scott eats gluten-free, I made rice pudding.
Loquats, for those of you unfamiliar, look like small light-orange testicles. (Well, they do!) The skin peels off easily with your fingers. The flesh looks like an orange lychee, and that's sort of what it tastes like too - floral and sweet with a little pucker. It's got a few big brown seeds in the middle, which I hear are poisonous, so don't eat them.
Just so you know I have my priorities in order: This morning when I rode my bike to work I remembered to take both my snack bag and a container of this rice pudding for Tonia and Scott. However, I managed to forget my wallet, keys (including the key to my bicycle lock, forcing me to park my bike next to my desk), cell phone, and all the other goodies that live in my handbag, which I also forgot. Luckily I live only two miles from my office, and my husband was nice enough to play messenger boy. He was in a good mood - the rice pudding agreed with him, too.
Rice pudding with loquats and coconut milk
- 1 cup Arborio or other short-grain rice
- 1 can coconut milk
- 4 cups milk (low-fat is fine)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup loquat jam
Stir in the loquat jam and serve. Garnish with toasted coconut if you like - you'll notice there's none in the photo above, because I was rushing to get to work this morning. If I'd had a few minutes, I definitely would have added the toasted coconut.