The Meiwa and Nagami kumquats that fill the buckets and baskets at different tables at our markets this season (Walker Farms, Jeanne Davis and Mud Creek Ranch, to name a few) fill us with both happiness and dread, mirroring the contrasting sweet and sour flavor that brings us back every year.
Popping sweet-and-sour Meiwa (Fortunella crassifolia — probably our favorite genus name ever) into your mouth whole, crunching fast to mix its two very strong flavors like a soft, citric candy, is incredibly pleasing. Until, that is, you hit the seeds. The many, many seeds. One of our favorite winter jams is kumquat marmalade, sliced into thin, stained-glass circles suspended in a bright orange clear gel. But to get there, you have to devote not insignificant attention to removing and setting aside all those pectin-rich seeds. Is the result worth it?
The three-pound bag of Meiwas purchased last week by a fellow jammer suggests yes. And we begrudgingly agree. Thankfully the kumquat window is wide right now, and isn't set to close until sometime around Easter, so we have a little time to procrastinate and enjoy the Meiwas fresh, before busting out the cutting board and the Cambros.
The seeds do warrant some attention. The Meiwa kumquat is, at best, an ounce or two of thin-skinned fruit — think large marble or cherry size. How it manages to pack in anywhere from four to seven (we counted) seeds per fruit and still have enough room for juice and pulp, we've no idea. This is a tree that really wants to propagate. The plus side of all these seeds is the aforementioned pectin. The thing that makes them a big pain to jam also makes them ideal for it. There are a ton of marmalade recipes out there for kumquats, but we're really fond of this new, small-batch recipe from Food in Jars, which is a great way to start if you're new to preserving.
There are varieties of Meiwas that have no seeds at all, but they're pretty rare at the local markets. What it does have is a much thicker skin than the more common and oblong Nagami kumquat, giving it that sweet, candylike punch. The potent sourness of the Nagamis makes them better suited to lemonlike tasks and adds a pleasant zing to springtime punch and aguas frescas.
Felicia Friesema is a Master Food Preserver with the UC Cooperative Extension and Co-Leader of Slow Food USA's Los Angeles chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @FeliciaFriesema.