Kumquats bring me back to when I was little and neighborhood bounty was fair game to any kid, anywhere, anytime. One neighbor’s pomegranate tree hung over the sidewalk, alluring but only occasionally productive since they were hard to reach. Sometimes we were pressed into service to pick the tiny bitter cherries my grandmother, Miss Alice, used to make her cherry cordial, also known as Cherry Bounce. But they were more fun to throw at each other than to eat—no matter how often you tasted them they were undeniably nasty.
Juicy fresh dates that hung low in great golden bunches on date palms were more satisfying. They grew in an undisclosed (read forbidden) location but that didn't stop us from enjoying them by the handful whenever we could grab them. My grandpa's figs were also a great snack but the leaves gave you a hot rash. It was always better to wait until he picked them and then zero in on the goodies, unless Miss Alice was around and made you stop and peel them.
Kumquats, bless them, were much easier to gather, although not without death-defying risk. The Kumquat Keeper was an old, old maiden lady who later became my scary seventh grade teacher—I'll call her "Miz Gootch." She lived upstairs in a house on a corner, right on the way to school and spoke only in the key of screech. Her voice could worm a dog at fifty feet. Even the teenage boys were afraid of her. Very afraid.
Her backyard was small and pretty and bordered on the sidewalk. The fence was very low, concrete pillars with short iron rails. The branches of her little kumquat tree dangled their fruit temptingly through the openings.
Resistance was futile. Sweet miniature fruit twinkled brightly through glossy green leaves at perfect kid level. A little girl far braver taught me the strategy—sneak up with great guile and cunning, swiftly and efficiently stuff the front of your shirt. Then run like crazy.
I still shiver to think about it. Swiping fruit from a lady who could probably turn you into a toad AND was going to be your teacher someday—brrrr! What horrible chances we take as children.
I live in a cooler climate as an adult so they aren’t tempting me from anyone’s garden these days, but kumquats do show up in the supermarkets. I bought a carton on impulse the other day, the first in ages. Kumquats are best when all traces of green have disappeared. You can pop a whole one in your mouth, pips and all, which made them perfect in kid world and still makes me happy as a grownup.
- They’re a natural for marmalade, an easy preparation when you employ your microwave. Yes, it’s great on toast, but you can use it between cake layers and mix it into cream cheese icing. Or add a tot of rum and spoon it on top your of your next cheesecake to up the wow factor.
- Add ginger, soy, scallions and garlic to your marmalade for a wonderful glaze for pork tenderloin or grilled chicken. Roasted quail, duck or goose take well to this treatment as would skewered shrimp or sea bass filets
- Make a kumquat salsa fresca. Add 1/4 cup very finely minced red onions, 1 finely minced scallion, 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and finely chopped jalapeno to taste to about 12 kumquats. Finish with the juice of half a lemon and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Use chunky alongside roasted chicken or chop fine and serve with spicy-hot blue corn chips.
- Thinly slice kumquats onto baby greens for a salad and whir a couple into your favorite vinaigrette along with a few drops of dark sesame oil and a teaspoon or so of shallot. Top with toasted almond slivers, scallions and toasted sesame seeds.
- Kumquats are making a strong showing in the trendiest bars and clubs, finding their way into margaritas, martinis and mojitos, daiquiris, champagne cocktails and coolers. Mascerate kumquats in vodka for a "Kumquatini." Try adding a fresh basil leaf or two to a kumquat skewered onto a rosemary spear to replace olives on toothpicks. Tres chic.
Salsa or mojitos? Salad or cheesecake? I have not decided what I’d like to do with my kumquats yet, but the level in the little plastic clamshell holding them is dropping at a dizzying rate while I make up my mind. I COULD simplify my options and munch them out of hand until they’re gone. Hmmm.
It's got to be the marmalade, the recipe beloved by my larcenous little inner kid. My kumquats come in an eight-ounce clear pack, so I only make small batches of this appealing marmalade. If you can, choose fruit that is firm and ripe with no green areas. For a quicker preparation, quarter kumquats and pulse in food processor until all is uniformly chopped to desired texture. Since I am first, last and always a Southern girl, my marmalade goes on biscuits, y'all, dripping with butter. And not just any biscuits, but that epitome of the biscuit maker's art, angel biscuits.
- 8 ounces kumquats
- 3/4 cup orange juice
- 1 cup sugar
- Juice of one lemon, about 2 tablespoons
Wash and dry kumquats, removing stems ends if needed and trimming any green areas. Slice into thin rings. Discard any seeds if you like but it is not necessary; they contain pectin and help gelling.
Place fruit in a small saucepan and just cover with orange juice. Add sugar and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
Lower heat and simmer until the marmalade thickens, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully and stir frequently to avoid sticking or burning. Skim off foam from time to time.
Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice and stir. let cool, then put in a pretty covered bowl or jar and refrigerate. Serve with buttered Angel Biscuits. Recipe follows.
Yeast-risen biscuits are so light and tender it’s no wonder they are called named after the Heavenly Host. They are easy to make if you have just a few extra minutes. They will make a spectacular impression on all biscuit eaters, believe it. Make sure all your ingredients are quite cold before you start. I think these are best dainty-sized so I use a 2-inch glass to cut them out. The dull edge of the glass gives the dome shape I like for these biscuits. If you'd like, make them 3 inches and adjust cooking time.
- 1 rounded teaspoon dry active yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
- 2-1/4 level cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the bench
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk or as needed
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
Dissolve yeast in warm water in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes.
Sift together 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large bowl. Cut in shortening mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yeast mixture and buttermilk. Stir lightly, just until blended.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Dust baking sheet with cooking spray and have nearby. Turn dough out onto a heavily floured surface and knead lightly five times. Roll or pat dough to a 1/2-inch thickness and cut with a 2-inch biscuit cutter.
Alternately, pinch and form biscuits by hand. Place biscuits onto prepared baking pan and cover with a clean cloth. Set aside for to rest 30 minutes.
Brush the tops with melted butter. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until done to a golden turn. Makes 1-1/2 dozen small biscuits.
My eccentric food humor and love of classical music got the better of me. Enjoy "KUMQUAT OR: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Smoothie," which introduces yet another way to enjoy kumquats. Enjoyment for the kumquat, maybe not so much.