In Season: Kumquats

 

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People in developed countries are spoiled when it comes to the availability and variety of food they have access to; especially so in and around urban centers.  Because our food supply chain is so globalized, most people don’t think of when a produce is in season.  The fact that I can make fresh guacamole in New York in the dead of winter is at most a small miracle and at the very least a logistical triumph.  But still, there are some products that remain elusively seasonal.

One of my favorites is the kumquat.  They are mostly grown in Florida so yes, their availability up north is still dependent on a massive food chain, but you will only find kumquats available in the winter months continuing into early spring.  If you have a green thumb, you can grow them as a houseplant.  The kumquat is a small citrus, typically oval shaped and about the size of a cherry tomato.  It is unique in that it is eaten whole – skin and all.  The skin is sweet and perfumey and tastes quintessentially citrus while counterintuitively the flesh can be a bit tart and is typically not eaten on its own.

So what should you do when a seasonal produce comes along?  First, enjoy the hell out of it.  I was in Los Angeles in February and bought 3lbs of kumquats to bring home.  I ate a pound of them before landing back in New York.  Life is short.  Eat up.  Second, think about preservation.  Sure, I could have eaten all 3lbs in February but then what happens in July?  A jam is an obvious way to enjoy any fruit in the off season.  One way I like to preserve kumquats is by candying them.  Candied kumquats hold very well, are delicious and look really cool.  The pith breaks down, absorbs the sugar, and becomes translucent.

We are nearing the end of its season so you may find this simple recipe useful now.  Kumquats can still be found in some gourmet supermarkets in the northeast.  You will need a dehydrator for this recipe

Just some side notes

  • The kumquats in the picture are a bit rounder than what you would probably find in the markets.  These are Meiwa kumquats and not as available as the Nagamis.  Its skin is slightly thicker and it tastes sweeter and more floral.  Given the choice, go with the Meiwa.
  • Seasonality of a product is easy to speak about when it is either available or not available.  However, all produce have a peak season, especially as you travel away from the equator.  Understanding what grows in your region and when it is best harvested and eaten is as important to the quality of a dish as the recipe is.  Eating a tomato grown in Mexico in December is not the same as eating a tomato from the local farmers market in August.  In fact, don’t even consider the former and go with a quality canned tomato in the off-season, or forego tomatoes altogether until the summertime.

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Candied Kumquat

Ingredients

Kumquats
Sugar
Water

Steps

  • Wash and then slice the kumquats into cross sections about an 1/8″ inch thick
  • Remove any seeds
  • Combine equal parts sugar and water and heat in a pot until the sugar dissolves.  Use as much water and sugar as is needed to cover the kumquat slices
  • Reduce heat to low and add kumquat slices
  • Cook until the pith turns translucent
  • Carefully remove the kumquats and place onto a cooling rack so the sugar syrup drains off a bit
  • Place kumquats in a dehydrator set at 140°F and let dry until they are no longer tacky.  Keep kumquats in one layer so they don’t stick together
  • Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place and enjoy whenever

BONUS TIP!!!!  Save the sugar solution and use it in place of sugar or regular simple syrup where it makes sense (e.g. – in an Old Fashioned or orange marshmallows)

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