NEW PORT RICHEY — Dell deChant tried his first taste of loquat more than 30 years ago from a tree adjacent to the apartment complex where he and wife, Marilyn, lived after they were married. His first bite was a hesitant one but ever since it has been one of his favorite fruits.
“Its taste is unique,” deChant said. “It’s a bit like a cross between a peach and a plum and when fully ripe sweeter than both. When they’re not fully ripened, they’re more tart than a tart plum. Ripened, they’re like candy they’re so sweet.”
Since that first bite deChant, a former city council member and master instructor in religious studies at the University of South Florida, has been an advocate of planting the trees locally because they’re so easy to care for and they flourish in humid Florida weather. Through Ecology Florida, where deChant is board president, and Friendship Farms & Fare, the inaugural Florida Loquat Festival will be held 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. April 5 at the Market Off Main, 6241 Lincoln St.
The festival will be a learning and sharing event to expand knowledge and appreciation of the loquat tree and its fruit. There will be presentations on the cultivation of loquat trees, how to eat its fruit and recipes based on loquats. Also featured will be tasting samples and a talk about the cultural context of this often overlooked Florida fruit-bearing tree.
The event will include live music and loquat seeds; saplings and young trees will be available for purchase. Loquat food products also will offered, including compotes, preserves and other specialties.
“They can grow in urban environments; just about anywhere you have a patch of ground,” deChant said. “They produce so much fruit and anyone can grow one. They take no fertilizer. They don’t require water. In so many ways it’s a miraculous tree and there are plenty of them growing wild around the city.”
A loquat tree even was planted in the Peace Learning Garden in Sims Park by the New Port Richey Garden Club at the city’s Arbor Day celebration and tree planting ceremony in January.
The loquat is native to China and is an evergreen tree with large, stiff leaves and the ability to withstand varying temperatures and soils. It is not a citrus fruit but instead is more closely related to an apple or pear.
This is the first Florida Loquat Festival; it won’t be big like Dade City’s Annual Kumquat Festival, which has a midway, circus and clowns, deChant said.
“We are just trying to sow the seeds of the loquat in this area.”