It's kumquat season! If you don't know what that means, kumquats are those tiny citrus fruits that crop up in grocery stores this time of year. They're about the size of an olive and are eaten whole, peel and all. Often you see them as salad garnishes at fancy restaurants. The name is a little off putting, but trust me, they're really good if you like a tart and slightly bitter fruit.
In Japan they are called kinkan and they have been cultivated for some time now. The trees are between eight and fifteen feet tall and can produce thousands of kumquats each. It must be beautiful to see when those thousands are small white flowers. Personally, I love flowering fruit trees, something we do not have in Alaska. When we moved to Maine and I discovered that on our property we had three apple trees, a plum tree, and two cherry trees, it was like we had moved to Lothlorien. Now that I am living on the family farm again it is my personal goal to plant even more flowering trees so that our yard is resplendent with them. (Why yes I did love Anne of Green Gables when I was a child, why do you ask?)
You may recall that I had a birthday last week. My sister, Chelsea, is currently living in Texas, finishing up her OT degree in western style. Unable to be here to celebrate my landmark birthday, she sent me a pile of books that have been hanging out in my wishlist for a while now. One of these books was Preserving the Japanese Way, by Nancy Singleton Hachisu. Personally I have never been a huge fan of pickles and fermented foods, I really don't like vinegar, but oddly I do like to pickle things and preserve them (I have an absolute passion for making jam, it's possible I might have been a frontier wife in another life). I already have Nancy Singleton Hachisu's Japanese Farm Food, and it is one of my favorite cookbooks. When I saw that she had just written a book about preserving I was so excited, and now I have it!
It was difficult to decide what recipe to try first, but when I saw one for kumquats, which as I mentioned earlier are in season, my mind was made for me. It was an easy recipe, starting with poking holes in the little guys with a toothpick, then simmering them in the sake for a short time. Once drained, I made a syrup from sugar and water and a few mint leaves (the recipe called for shiso, but the co-op had none in stock so I used mint instead). The kumquats were added to the syrup and cooked for a further twenty five minutes. After such an extended period of simmering, I did wonder if they might be absolute goo, but as in the picture in the book, they were perfect, shiny and soft. I was instructed to let them cool before eating, but I couldn't resist trying one, after all the whole house smelled like citrus. They were really sweet, but by the time they had cooled completely they had gone back to tart with just a sugary kiss. Yummy!
The syrup that was left in the pot was so good, kumquat flavored sugar, that I watered it down and poached mint leaves in it. This made a super sweet mint tea which I chilled in the fridge and then mixed with fizzy water. What a treat!
The great thing about these kumquats is that though they are delicious, you are totally satisfied with a couple at a time. This means that you don't gobble them up in one sitting and since they're preserved, you don't have to! If this is a sign of all the recipes in this cookbook, I'm very excited to try more! (Plus my other sister, Kendal, sent me a book all about wagashi, traditional Japanese confections, so there's even more to look forward to!)
Until next time, fill your house with the smell of citrus!