The loquat, usually called “Japanese plum” in Charleston, is a common tree of dooryards and gardens in the Lowcountry. Most of the trees have been cultivated from unimproved seedlings in this century as ornamentals; the fruits are undersized and full of the large seeds. The juicy, firm texture of the fruits, which resemble apricots, makes them a local favorite, particularly eaten out of hand.

The season for the ripe fruit (and it must, indeed, be ripe to softness to be edible) is brief; it is the first summer fruit to arrive. Some years the fruits ripen in early April; other years they are still on the trees when the Spoleto Festival USA ends in early June. Neighborhood children love to climb the trees; they go from door to door offering the fruits for sale. The following recipe is from Joann Yaeger, a local chef.

Apricots, another exotic fruit favored for Charleston courtyards, can be substituted here. If you have neither fresh apricots nor loquats, use dried apricots soaked in water overnight. (Instructions follow the recipe).

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Ingredients

  • 3 ounces (about ½ cup) sugar
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • ½ cup milk
  • cups unbleached (all-purpose) flour, plus flour for dusting
  • ¼ cup apricot jam
  • 2 cups seeded loquats, apricots, or rehydrated dried apricots (see Note)
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

Method

Grease a 9- or 10-inch tart pan and set aside. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, add the sugar (minus 1 tablespoon) to the butter and beat well. Add the extract and milk and continue to beat until well blended. Turn the mixer to low speed and sift the flour into the mixture a little at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. Preheat the oven to 350°.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll out about ½-inch thick. Score off a section of the dough big enough to fill the pan. Roll that section up onto the rolling pin, then unroll it into the tart pan. Lightly press into place. Brush a layer of jam onto the tart, then add the fruit, interspersing it with little pinches of the remaining dough. Sprinkle with the nuts, then sprinkle the entire tart with sugar. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the dough is browned evenly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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