The Sacramento region produces some glorious citrus fruit, and now is the time to find local oranges, lemons, tangerines and grapefruit in stores and farmers’ markets. A lesser known member of the citrus family, also to be found in our fecund region, is the kumquat. Tiny, oval, and irresistibly orange, these cute mini-fruits can be enjoyed in a number of ways. The most common way is to simply pop the fruit – whole – into your mouth, and start chewing. The initial burst of palate-shocking tartness will be quickly eased by a gush of sweetness, and the flavor combination is exhilarating. I found a very humorous and entertaining primer on the Kumquat Growers website entitled “How to Eat a Kumquat” (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoLr7BieIKQ) that is worth watching if you feel any trepidation about trying this feisty little fruit.
Kumquats make excellent (and gorgeously colored) marmalades and jams, and can also be incorporated into relishes and chutneys that you can serve alongside roasted meats. You can also ”candy” the fruit by cooking it in a syrup of sugar and water, which can then be used as an intriguing ice cream or cheesecake topping, or to garnish panna cotta or a slice of cake (I like to pair it with a rustic, textural polenta cake).
Here is a yummy candied kumquat recipe from www.epicurious.com which I have used (and enjoyed) in the past:
Reprinted from epicurious.com
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
9 ounces kumquats (about 25 medium), thinly sliced crosswise, seeds removed
Combine water and sugar in medium saucepan. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add kumquats; reduce heat. Simmer until kumquat slices are translucent, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat; cool kumquats in syrup. Strain kumquats, reserving syrup.* Combine kumquats and 1/4 cup syrup in small bowl. Return remaining syrup to same saucepan; boil until reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 8 minutes. Can be made two days ahead. Cover and chill.
* Try drizzling the syrup over ice cream; incorporate it into salad dressing; or add it to a cup of tea, a glass of club soda, or a flute of sparkling wine. The syrup can be refrigerated for several weeks.