For Bermudians, February means just one thing: loquats, loquats and more loquats. This is the month children disappear into the loquat trees eager for these yellow to orange rounded fruits whose taste ranging from sweet to tart differs from tree to tree. Though loquats originated in China, Bermuda has made them their own. Children love to eat them fresh from the branch but they have also become an important part of Bermudian cuisine. Think chutney, jam and loquat liqueur.

Along with the startlingly fragrant wild fresia, loquats are the most visible harbinger of spring. Also called the Japanese medlar and nispero, the fragile fruit is popular in China, Japan, Central and South America, and throughout the Mediterranean, in Spain and the Middle East. Yellow to pale-orange to sunset-gold, round or tear-shaped, fuzzy and often freckled, the sweet and tart flesh tastes of plum, lychee, apricot, grape and has anywhere from one large to five small dark brown seeds.

Governor Reid is said to have obtained planting material of the loquat from Malta about the year 1850 and established plants, presumably at Government House in Pembroke. Since its introduction, the loquat has thrived in Bermuda and is now found in practically every garden. This plant is a member of the rose family which includes the plum, peach, apple, pear, strawberry and many choice flowering shrubs including the garden rose.

Loquats have even become a national icon, their dark green leaves and pastel yellow fruit fit comfortably within the Bermuda colour palette and often show up in the work of artists or printed on local souvenirs like dish towels and cutting boards.

Given the number of loquats locals eat it is good to know that they are high in nutritional value, and both the fruit and leaves can be used medicinally. They are rich in insoluble dietary fibre and an excellent source of vitamin A. They also contain flavonoid antioxidants along with potassium, manganese, calcium and other minerals.

There are countless ways to enjoy the loquat. Some people peel them, some squeeze the seeds out and suck on the juice and pulp while others pop the whole thing in their mouth and spit the seeds.

Recipe: Loquat Cake

Beat together:
2 c. sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 c. Crisco oil

3 c. flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat together.
Next, add 3 c. chopped loquats (peeled or unpeeled). Bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees in a bundt pan.