They looked a bit like apricots on steroids, but with more of a nectarine like skin… I had never come across one before, “nespoli” the sign in Italian declared. The vendor described it as a bit of apricot, a bit of peach, delicious. We bought some to try. They were incredibly juicy, but the flavor less intense than I had anticipated. It was pleasant, but it wasn’t an earth shattering experience, by any means. Little did I know then that I was probably supposed to wait several more days until it started to rot and putrefy before it was at the height of its flavor and pungency… Nespoli (mespilus germanica) is a distant relative of an apple, native to Persia and frown by the Romans since the second century BC (according to Alan Davidson in his book, The Oxford Companion to Food). So that seemed simple enough, except that many other sites suggest this is in fact a loquat, or Japanese medlar, native to China somewhere…
I would like to think it must be a nespoli, because I purchased it in Italy, but I am not certain at all whether a nespoli refers to a medlar or a loquat. And it certainly didn’t fit the description of a medlar which is hard and dark green and allowed to rot before it is pungent and enjoyed. It was also early in the summer, so the timing would jive with a loquat ripening season. So maybe there is a reason for the confusion, and this was indeed a loquat (eriobotrya japonica) instead. It was orange and apricot like in color and flesh, it had a single seed, not the five indicated for a medlar, and while it originated in China, it is NOW cultivated on a small scale in the Mediterranean area. If you know more than the little I have written here, please leave a comment. Thanks.
Update: Here is a close-up of unidentified fruit from a trip to Florence 4 years ago, that Footloose refers to. This one had the five-petaled “flower” at the other end of the fruit from the stem, making it botanically distinct from the fruit above, but I guess are both called nespoli in Italy, and they are in season around May/June.