My brother has a kumquat tree. It’s quite an enthusiastic tree – apparently it bears fruit all year round, relentlessly. Since kumquats are not, on the whole, a fruit you can just eat off the tree, he has been looking for things to do with them – and perhaps even more for people to give them to. In particular, he’s bored with sweet kumquat recipes.
I have, in fact, made excellent kumquat pectin jellies in the past, but this was basically a labour of insanity, because zesting enough kumquats to make a batch of jelly is extraordinary fiddly and time-consuming. Thus, I too was interested in a savoury use for kumquats (particularly given my brother’s increasingly pressing offers of kumquats by the tonne).
Anyway, at some point in the dim distant past, I remember seeing a recipe for kumquats preserved in the manner of Moroccan preserved lemons, and being of an enquiring disposition (and in possession of a kilo of kumquats), I decided to give the idea a try. Of course, the recipe is long gone from my browser’s memory (particularly given that I now have an entirely different computer), but I had Stephanie Alexander’s preserved lemon recipe to guide me, so I boldly sallied forth into the world of briney citrus.
So, will my kumquats be a tremendous success? A hideous failure? A curiosity? Only time will tell…
Your Shopping List850 g kumquats (like you need to buy them. If you have them, you have them, and if you don’t, the supermarket won’t be much help to you) 200 g salt (yes, I mean 200 g) 2 cinnamon sticks 3 bay leaves 1-2 teaspoons fennel seed a piece of ginger root about the size of your thumb
Now what will you do with it?
Wash and sterilise a 1 litre jar with a tight-fitting lid. I am not the best person to ask how to do this, since I am constantly terrified of giving everyone botulism, and thus rarely make preserves at all, but I understand the best option is to wash the jar in the dishwasher or in very hot soapy water, and then put it in a very low oven to dry and stay hot until you are ready to use it. It goes without saying that you will be wearing oven mitts while dealing with this jar, yes?
Wash and halve your kumquats, and put into a large bowl. Peel and slice your ginger root and crumble the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks slightly.
Put a spoonful of salt in the bottom of your hot jar. Put the rest in with the kumquats and use your hands to mix them together, squashing the kumquats enthusiastically as you go.
Most of the juice will come out of the kumquats, and that’s fine, because when you use preserved lemons you only use the rinds anyway, and I think kumquats would be the same.
Pack the kumquats firmly into the jar, pausing after every layer to add some of the ginger, cinnamon, bay leaf and fennel seeds. Pour the rest of the briny kumquat juice over the top. You should make sure all the kumquats are covered with brine (says she, laughing – the dratted things float, and there’s nothing you can do about that), so they don’t go mouldy – though having said that, I gather the kind of mouldy they go is non toxic, so don’t feel you have to throw out the whole batch if your top layer is furrier than you prefer your food to be.
Wipe down the rim of the jar with a cloth or paper towel dipped in boiling water, and seal the jar.
Leave for a month in a cool place which is not the fridge (ie, don’t make this in Australia in summer), and see what happens.
To use, take out a couple of pieces, rinse them, and remove the innards – you just want the skin. Chop finely and add to couscous or tagines or chicken salad…
I think you could try this with just about any sour citrus fruit, halved or quartered depending on size. Limes would definitely be good. Maybe grapefruit, too? And of course, you could vary the spices to your liking. Cumin seed or cloves might be good additions.
This recipe is, of course, vegan and gluten-free. I imagine it is low-GI, too, and I think citrus fruits are relatively low-fructose, so it might fit that category too, for what it’s worth. Of course, the amounts you are likely to eat it in at any given time are so tiny that it probably won’t affect you strongly either way.