When I was a child growing up in Kenya, we had all kinds of fruit trees in our garden, papaya, pomegranate, guava, mango and banana. However, there was one fruit we did not have, but which grew in our neighbours garden a short distance away. During the season, this 20 ft or so, tree with dark green, long leaves would be covered with small, deep yellow fruits similar to apricots, which we called loquats. We would sneak into the garden and pluck whatever we could reach. The taste of the fruit, slightly tart, slightly sweet, and very juicy was like getting a burst of sunshine in your mouth, likely made more delicious because it was ‘stolen’. I did not see the fruit again after I left Kenya until a few years ago when I walked into our local Italian supermarket in Toronto and saw a box of them labelled ‘Nespole’ and sold at an outrageous price. Of course I was so excited at seeing them again that I had to buy some but sadly, they didn’t taste quite the same.
Imagine my delight when I saw a Nespolo tree in a garden across the street from us in our neighbourhood in Rome laden with fruit. Okay, I know what you’re thinking and no I didn’t although I was tempted (actually, I couldn’t reach that high!). I bought some in the market and have been enjoying them as they are now in season. They do vary in taste but I’ve actually come across some that taste like the ones from my childhood. Frank La Rosa in an article in the L’Italo-Americano newspaper says that every Nespola seed produces a slightly different fruit which explains the slightly differing tastes. They bruise easily and often have brown spots but you soon learn to find the good ones and best of all, they are cheap here so you can keep tasti
Fidz tells me that the fruit is a Nespola (plural Nespole) and the tree a Nespolo (plural Nespoli). Luckily, unlike the figs (see Beginner’s Italian and Fig Gelato), there is no vulgarity associated with mixing up the gender of the fruit when speaking! The tree (Eriobotrya japonica) originates in southeastern China and is sometimes referred to as a Japanese medlar. However, not to be confused with the medlar (Mespilus germanico), a completely different fruit. Nespole or loquats are rich in Vitamin A, potassium and manganese which to quote Frank La Rosa “ìs nice to know but entirely irrelevant when eating nespole succulente”.