The loquat. A flowering articulation of Charlestonly culture—surprisingly refined, delightfully ornamental and deeply flavorful. It arrived in 1794 courtesy of French botanist Andre Michaux, who discovered it in Japan, although it originated in China. Weeping boughs laden with clusters of the goldenrod-hued fruit, which can rival the size of a small egg when fully ripe, signal that spring has arrived in the Lowcountry, even if the calendar still claims winter.
The green hue of the unripe fruit is #DCR080—“loquat”—on the Colors of Historic Charleston licensed paint palette. Jam is a straightforward affair that requires fruit pectin, sugar and the fruit. And then there is an entire spectrum of candied garnishes.
We asked Brooks Reitz, who works front of house at James Beard Award-winning Chef Mike Lata’s restaurant FIG, to create a cocktail inspired by springtime in Charleston. Reitz is the founder of Jack Rudy Cocktail Company, which he created to “preserve and revive the heritage of crafted cocktails using quality ingredients by improving upon tradition and appealing to a modern market.”
My departure point was, of course, the number of gardens—private and otherwise—that dot the streets of Charleston. While there are countless beautiful homes with impeccably manicured gardens, it’s not always possible to enjoy them intimately without knowing the homeowner or trespassing (don’t do it!). However, there are a number of great public spaces that offer that same experience, and chief among those publicly accessible experiences are the loquat trees that can be found throughout the city and produce a bounty of free fruit for anyone that can find them.
Luckily, there is a young guy that goes by the poetic moniker “Lowcountry Loquat Locator” that has made it much easier for everyone by crafting a Google map with meticulous notes about where to find all the loquat trees in downtown. It’s great.
So, taking those loquats and translating them into a drink was the next step. I stuck with something very simple (a sour), and utilized Aperol to give it some depth and a backbone of gentle bitterness.
1.5 oz. London Dry Gin (Beefeater is ideal here)
.5 oz. Lemon Juice (freshly squeezed, always)
.5 oz. Aperol
.25 oz. Simple Syrup
A Tablespoon of Loquat
Muddle the loquat with the simple syrup.
Add Aperol, lemon juice and gin.
Shake vigorously over ice.
Double strain (pour the drink through a small tea strainer) into a coupe glass.
– Brooks Reitz, March 2012
Read a recent interview with Reitz here: click
We used the Lowcountry Loquat Locator to find the tree we photographed for this post. It was like a grown-up scavenger hunt. You should do it, too!