This time of year, Amarys Koenig-Herndon and her partner both in life and business, Jordan Herndon, are on the hunt for unclaimed loquats, even stopping to introduce themselves to strangers if they spot a tree bearing the diminutive orange-yellow bulbs in someone’s yard. “We talk to people and ask if they want to share some,” Koenig-Herndon says. Often, the people they meet are more than happy to donate and “just ask if we will bring them some jelly or preserves after we make them.”
Herndon was unfamiliar with loquats when he and Koenig-Herndon moved to New Orleans from Texas, a few years before they opened their French Quarter–adjacent restaurant, Palm & Pine. On a morning jog, he passed a tree full of fruit that looked like a kumquat but was blossoming in late winter, long out of season. “I was investigating it, and while I was doing that, some guy came right up and just took a few of them,” he recalls. “So I tried them out.”
And so began an obsession with the fruit, which is often found naturally in urban and suburban environments ringing the Gulf Coast and ripens between March and May. Herndon has even proclaimed his love with ink: The chef sports a loquat tattoo on his forearm. Herndon and Koenig-Herndon also typically imbue their menu with the fruit when it’s in season. This year, “We’re going to do a loquat pie, and try to play with seafood a little bit more,” Koening-Herndon says. Past creations include a loquat-infused liqueur, a loquat vinegar, and this loquat pepper jelly; they served it with chicken liver, but the spread can be used like any other stone fruit preserve: as a biscuit or cornbread topping, on grilled bread with burrata, or even swirled into ice cream.
And while creating new dishes accented with loquats—whose singular flavor profile Herndon describes as displaying hints of cherry, mango, peach, cherry, almond, and vanilla—is part of the fun, it’s the perpetual search for and harvesting of the loquat that seems to bring the couple the most excitement. “The joy of the loquat is picking it, being under the tree, smelling the aromas around you,” Koenig-Herndon says, adding that being out alongside her partner, searching high and low for loquat trees, in empty lots or on people’s property, provides a thrill every spring.
“I just love the renegade style of harvesting,” Herndon adds.