Photo © Puntarelle&Co Ltd
Kumquats are bite-sized citrus fruits, like small, elongated oranges. Their flesh is generally tart but the sweetness of the skin tempers their acidity, making them appealing, to some, to be eaten whole. Their small white undeveloped pips can be eaten, though in our experience there are sometimes larger, harder ones that are best extracted. As with all citrus, the Kumquat originated in China and, although we have known them since the 17th century, they are still not much seen here. Being small and thin-skinned, they can’t be stored for long which makes them unattractive to any large-scale growing. The name Kumquat, or Cumquat, comes from the Cantonese kam kwat, meaning ‘gold-orange’. Citrus crossbreeds readily and in the case of the Kumquat, this has resulted in the even lesser seen Limequat, which is a Kumquat crossed with the Key Lime, and the Sunquat, a cross with Citrus limon.
This week we have a small amount of untreated Kumquats from the glorious citrus groves of Scordia in Sicily, about 30 kilometres south west of Catania. This is the eastern side of the island where the climatic conditions are so favourable to citrus growing, thanks to the proximity of volcanic Mount Etna. One of the hardier citrus varieties, along with tangerines and bitter oranges, Kumquats are in season through winter until March. Their tender skins mean they can be kept at room temperature for little more than a week but for several weeks if kept covered and refrigerated.
Raw Kumquats are delicious sliced and added to chicory, particularly Belgian Endive, or to watercress, and seasoned with salt, pepper and good olive oil. They can be candied whole or sliced. If using whole you should blanch them three times first – cover with cold water, bring to the boil and drain each time. Simmer the whole or sliced fruits in a syrup made from one part sugar to two parts water until they become translucent. Really good spooned through vanilla ice cream. The fruits also make an easy marmalade as you simply need to quarter the fruits before adding sugar then boiling until set point is reached (though a little lemon juice always helps the ‘set’ along). You can add the sliced fruits to meat stews for a Moorish influence. For a sweet end to a meal, try dipping whole Kumquats in dark chocolate - a sophisticated take on the chocolate orange!
Kumquats, or a mix of kumquats and sliced unpeeled oranges, make a good pickle too, as food writer Jane Grigson reminds me. Simmer 250g whole kumquats in water until tender, but not collapsed, drain and discard the water. Dissolve 300g sugar into 250ml of wine vinegar stirring over a medium heat; add a 4cm cinnamon stick and 5-6 whole cloves, a little mace if you have it, and bring to the boil; add the fruit and bring back to the boil then simmer until the fruits look transparent and slightly candied; pot-up into sterilised jars, pop on the lids, and leave your jars in a cool dark place for a month. A great accompaniment to ham, pork, duck or meat terrines.