LOQUATS : Tasty by Any Name : It's related to the pear and apple and is a member of the rose family. But don't expect to find it on your grocer's shelves.


You might be put off by its name. And once you bite into a loquat and discover it is a golf ball-sized fruit with large brown pits that make up most of its mass, you are likely to give up on it altogether. And that would be too bad.

The loquat tree is a subtropical evergreen tree--recognizable by its foot-long dark green leaves. It bears an edible fruit you are unlikely to see at your local grocer.

But with close relations to the pear and apple--and a member of the rose family--you can bet its fruit can be quite tasty.

The loquat has a unique flavor: somewhat peachy, slightly acidic. It has a firm, plum-like skin that, in some varieties, has a fine, fuzzy covering.

Are you ready to try a loquat?

Head to the Ventura Farmers' Market and the bandstand inside the premises. Directly behind the performing musicians you'll find Wooten's Organic Produce. John Wooten's yard is shaded by a few loquat trees and he's been offering the fruit they bear at the Farmers' Market since May, 1988.

"When I first started selling loquats," he said, "nobody really focused on them."

"Last year, I brought some out and the situation turned around. Once people discovered just how good they are, we started selling them fast."

Wooten's Organic Produce is one of your best local sources for loquats.

"Loquats are unsuitable for mass marketing," Wooten said. "They are extremely perishable." That's one of the main reasons you're unlikely fo find them on your grocer's produce shelves.

"They have to be picked at ripe stage," he said. "Loquats will not increase in sugar content after picking." Watch out for an unripe loquat, Wooten said. Your lips are sure to pucker.

The round, sometimes oblong-shaped fruit varies in color from a yellow to orange skin; the flesh a yellowish, orange or pale hue.

"It takes a trained eye to pick a ripe loquat," he said. "We pick by color, so I eat a lot while picking to watch the sugar content."

Besides being rich in vitamin C, Wooten said loquats are one of the early spring sweet fruits available.

"The season is long, too," he said. "We'll have them up to around June."

Although loquats do make flavorful jams and jellies, Wooten suggests eating them fresh.

"They are simply delicious," he said. "They have a real unique flavor."

But he warns parents that they must take care when feeding loquats to the very young. "Parents should remove the seeds before giving the fruit to children," Wooten said. The seeds, he said, are large enough for children to choke on them.

Wooten has yet to make a name for himself as the loquat king. One reason is that he doesn't make any money off his best customers.

"The birds," he said, laughing. "I have to net the tree because the birds love them."

So for now, Wooten will continue to sell sculpted flower bouquets and his organic produce.

"We're featuring a mixed basket of organically grown lettuces," he said. "I grow several kinds and measure them all in a large basket. People get a variety of lettuces," he said, "for the price of one head of lettuce."

And, of course, he will try to convert the dubious to the glories of the little fruit with the large seeds.

A portion of Wooten's crops have been harvested and are now available.

Visit Wooten at the Farmers' Market Saturdays. Call 482-2259.

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