Kaison wanted one of those “little bitty oranges.” I explained that they were kumquats, not as sweet as oranges, but really good if you eat the whole thing at once spitting out the seeds. He wasn’t believing me so I demonstrated. “Open one for me, Nana, I just want the inside.” And of course he didn’t like the inside at all! They’re only good to eat if you pop the whole thing in your mouth. The peeling is actually sweeter than the juice.
I had never heard of kumquats until we moved to our old farmhouse in South Georgia where a former owner had grown these citrus fruits and left several trees behind. I was immediately enraptured by this wonderful fruit as well as by the marvelous satsumas. We moved there in the spring so it was fall before we began to realize what a treasure we had.
There were two kinds of kumquats, meiwa and nagami, although at the time I didn’t know their names, just that one was round and sweet, the other olive shaped and very tart. I began making marmalade every year, using an orange marmalade recipe, pain-stakingly deseeding the tiny fruits, then slicing thin. I took great delight in sharing little half pints with family and friends, especially those in North Georgia where we’d never known kumquats.
Though it is a cool weather citrus fruit, the trees will freeze, we found to our sorrow. One very harsh winter we experienced temperatures in the single digits several nights in a row. Though we covered the trees with old sheets, they froze, every last one.
We replanted a tree bearing the round sweet ones, as well as a couple of satsumas. The olive shaped ones (nagami) were so tart, we didn’t try one of those again. No one told me the tart ones were best for marmalade, that indeed the sweet ones aren’t even recommended for jelling. Tell that to my colorful jars of jelly! The trees grow fast but don’t produce much for about three years. I counted the little green orbs the first two years and watched jealously as they ripened. By the fourth and fifth years we were picking the fruit in November and December in grocery bags, baskets, and buckets. They are quite prolific!
Kumquat plants originated in South Asia. There are about five varieties worldwide now, more prevalent in Japan and China where they have been cultivated since as early as the 12th century. First referred to as “gam kwat” in Chinese literature, they were introduced in Europe in 1846. The kumquat trees grown now in the U.S. are mainly in the southeastern states and California.
The trees bloom twice in the summer and set fruit in the fall. The blooms are tiny and white and fragrant. Usually, in our experience, the first blooming does not produce fruit. But sometimes we had fruit from both bloomings making for a nice long harvest time, even into January and February if the weather wasn’t too harsh. We waited as long as we dared every year before picking all the kumquats because they get sweeter the longer they stay on the branches. But also we waited because we so enjoyed picking kumquat snacks straight from the tree. It’s much easier to get rid of seeds while in the “orchard” than at the table!
As a snack food, kumquats are valuable. They are low in calories but rich in beta carotene, Vitamin C and other good things, like antioxidants and Vitamin E which promotes healthy skin. But there are other fun ways to use them.
Kumquat branches are beautiful as Christmas decorations. The little orange globes shine out amongst their foliage and other choices of evergreens. They look so fresh and festive! I love to lay a branch of two or three atop other fruit in a basket or bowl.
The marmalade is very good in a jelly roll. It is also wonderful in author Jan Karon’s “Orange Marmalade Cake,” the signature recipe of her character Esther (was it Esther
Bolick or Esther Cunningham– Bolick I think). Everybody in Mitford depended on Esther’s cake at community events. There’s another kumquat cake recipe which is much easier. I’m sharing it below. You’ll also find my marmalade recipe below.
I’m so glad we could start a new “tiny” orchard at our present house. Charles planted a row of citrus, including kumquats, satsumas, and an orange tree at the south end of our house, protected from the north wind. The very healthy plants will be three years old next season so maybe we’ll actually have a crop instead of just sparse walk-by snacks. In the meantime, the gracious lady now living at our old place has shared an abundant crop of satsumas and kumquats. So, again, I’m making marmalade for gifts, as well as to spread on our own toast. I’ve discovered that grinding the halved and deseeded fruits in a blender works much better for making marmalade than the way I used to slice them. It’s better on the hands and the puree makes for a smoother spread.
As to how long the fruit will keep, it will stay fresh at room temperature for just a few days, but will keep in the refrigerator for weeks. The canned jelly keeps for up to five years on the shelf. I make batches of the puree measured ready for jelly making and freeze them indefinitely so I can make marmalade anytime I wish.
But back to my little pickle eater, Kaison. He will eat pickles better than candy. But he was disappointed in our “little oranges.” Like many things in life, appearances are not everything!
Enjoy some kumquat recipes!
3 c. processed kumquats (halved, deseeded and either sliced thinly or ground in blender to a nice puree), 1 c. water, 6 1/2 c. sugar, 1 pkg. Sure Jell
Place 3 c. kumquats and 1 c. water in jelly pot (needs to be a large pot). Stir in Sure Jell. Brng to a boil that will not stir down. Add sugar. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Boil one whole minute. Set off heat. Skim white foam off top. Using fruit funnel (I like my own funnel made from the top of a gallon milk jug), fill jars and seal. Makes 6 or 7 half pints. Can be used whenever orange marmalade is requested in a recipe.
1 lemon cake mix, 1 small pkg lemon instant pudding, 3/4 c. oil, 1/2 cup pureed kumquats, 1/4 c. milk, 4 eggs, 1 tsp. lemon juice
In a bowl combine 1st five ingredients and beat well. Add eggs 1 at a time beating well. Add lemon juice. Pour into greased and floured bundt cake pan and bake at 325 degrees 45-50 minutes. Check at 40 minutes. Remove from pan and add glaze.
1/4 c. chopped or pureed kumquats, 1 c. sifted confectioners sugar, 2 tablespoons melted margarine, 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine ingredients and pour over top of cake on your favorite cake plate.