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Farmers Markets

What's in Season at the Farmers Markets: Kumquats

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Thu, Apr 14, 2011 at 8:29 AM

click to enlarge Kumquats from Walker Farms at the Pasadena market. - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • Kumquats from Walker Farms at the Pasadena market.

Kumquats, the small olive-sized citrus that produces catchy YouTube videos from people who just like saying the name, have actually been in season for awhile already. But it's around this time of year that we really come to appreciate this sweet-tart 19th century import from Asia. Springtime holiday pitchers full of kumquat punch, late-season marmalades, colorful and tangy pickles, and a zingy kumquat meringue pie almost make us forget that, per pound, the damned fruit is still one of the more expensive citrus out there, sometimes weighing in at over $6 a pound.

Popularity and abundance have dented the sticker shock a little, but even that does little to deter kumquat devotees, most of whom generally eschew preparation and prefer to eat the fruits raw and whole. There's a technique for that which the kumquat neophyte should heed, which we have after the jump.

click to enlarge Kumquats from JJ's Lone Daughter Ranch at the Hollywood market. - FELICIA FRIESEMA
  • Felicia Friesema
  • Kumquats from JJ's Lone Daughter Ranch at the Hollywood market.

The temptation is to immediately stop chewing after the first bite. Kumquats have a distinctly sour center flesh with an acidity that produces an instant pucker. Keep chewing. The surprise is in the skin. That's where the kumquat holds all its sweetness. As you chew, the tart mingles with the sweet and you get a perfectly balanced citric mouthful. As the season progresses, the seeds within tend to dominate, but most tend to ignore them and keep chewing. If the tart is too much for you, quarter and candy in a hot sugar syrup. The aroma is marvelously floral and almost tangerine-like and the process tenderizes the already soft fruit into delicate little sweets.

A springtime punch made from stewed kumquats with honey, chilled and garnished with orange flowers requires only a small amount of fruit for a big flavor delivery, a plus when looking to maximize the outcome for the expense. Pickling and then serving alongside same-sized olives makes an attractive and balanced appetizer. And then of course there is jam. Or marmalade in this case, since you don't want to exclude that fragrant, oily, sweet tasting peel. We're particularly fond of Lick My Spoon's recipe, which gilds the lily with a vanilla bean. Master Food Preserver Ernest Miller also adds that the trick to great kumquat marmalade is, "...to cut the fruit into tiny rings. Beautiful, translucent rings in a clear gel." He adds that it's gorgeous and delicious, but a lot of work.

As far as fruit selection goes, it's super tempting to just scoop up a handful and call it a day. Don't. Take the time to select your fruits carefully, after all, the price merits a little more attention than say, green beans. Watch for soft or brown spots. Also don't go squeezing the skin too much. It's delicate and thin and will release a bunch of citrus oil onto your fingers. Pleasant for you, not so hot for a vendor trying to sell undamaged fruit. Inspect, don't squeeze, and talk to your grower about other potential uses.

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