Friday, February 10, 2012

The Problem with Kumquats

My neighbors have some beautiful kumquat trees. They are diminutive, with long, arching limbs that are laden with bright orange kumquats. They look so yummy, you just want to pop them in your mouth. But resist that temptation! These kumquats are so sour your pucker will pucker. Your eyes will bulge, and you will begin to drool. They are a Trojan horse for a citrus sour-bomb.

But this year, I decided to do something about our neighborhood kumquat problem. I would make these kumquats taste like candy. I would can them!

My favorite book on canning is Linda J. Amendt's "Blue Ribbon Preserves." She has three recipes for Kumquats in this book: Kumquat Marmalade, Kumquat Preserves, and Brandied Kumquats. I had so many kumquats, I decided to make all three!

I started at about four in the afternoon. I took my sack full of kumquats and carefully washed them and sorted them for the different recipes. The best looking, most ripe ones I would save for the brandied recipe.
Washed & Sorted Kumquats
Then I got the canner out, filled it with water, and started the long journey it would take to get it to boiling. I always put the canner on the heat a good 45 minutes before I am going to need to use it.

Canner and Tools
The amount of prep work canning recipes like these takes is monumental. I decided to tackle the Kumquat Preserves recipe first, since it had to sit over night to soak in the syrupy goodness.  I created a simple syrup and then tossed the kumquats in whole.

Kumquats Added to Simple Syrup
Then I increased the heat and got the fruit up to boiling.

Kumquats Boiling in Simple Syrup
They boiled for about ten minutes and then I took them off of the heat to start their over-night soaking. The scent in the house from the boiling kumquats was absolutely ambrosial. It smelled like I lived in a flowering kumquat grove. Wonderful!

Soaking Kumquats
The next recipe to tackle was the Kumquat Marmalade. This one had some serious prep work involved. I had to "supreme" six Valencia oranges (also donated by my neighbors). Supreme-ing is a huge pain in the ass, but it makes a superior marmalade. Basically, it means laboriously trimming away all of the white pith, and then cutting away all of the membranes that separate each segment of the fruit, and then chopping up the inside of each segment. It takes a long time to do this, but the flavor and texture of the marmalade will make it all worth it.

After I supremed the oranges, I had to thinly slice a couple of pounds of kumquats. This was a lot easier than the orange prep, but required concentration to make sure all of the seeds were removed.

Once the fruit is prepared, its ready for the pot. I added the kumquat slices, orange juice, water, and baking soda to an 8 quart pot and turned up the heat. I got it to a full boil and then reduced the heat to simmer the concoction for 10 minutes. Then I added the supremed orange bits, stirred and simmered for 10 more minutes.

Then I added a ridiculous amount of sugar (5 cups!) and a little butter and stirred it all up to make sure the sugar had fully dissolved. Brought it all back to a boil again so that I could add a pouch of pectin.

Boiling Kumquat Marmalade
And that's about it. After adding the pectin, I stirred the marmalade for a minute and then let it sit for 5 off of the heat before adding it to sterilized jars. Once the jars were filled and capped, I processed them in the canner for 10 minutes.

When it was all said and done, I had 7 jars of majestically golden kumquat marmalade.

Kumquat Marmalade
The third recipe I decided to try was the one for Brandied Kumquats. The only trouble was that I didn't have all of the ingredients. The recipe called for brandy and a vanilla bean. I had neither. Undaunted, I decided to substitute cognac for the brandy (my preference anyway), and vanilla extract for the vanilla bean.

First I blanched the kumquats. Then I made a simple syrup and added the vanilla. Once that syrup had simmered for 10 minutes I added the kumquats for 5 minutes. When that was up, I took the pot off of the heat and spooned the fruit (leaving the syrup) into the jars. It smelled wonderfully citrusy.

I put the syrup back on the heat and brought it to a boil for a minute. Then I took it off of the heat and added the cognac. I gave the mixture a quick stir and then ladled it over the fruit in the jars. The aroma alone was intoxicating. I processed the jars for 25 minutes.

Cognac Kumquats
Fortunately (you'll see why in a moment) I had more syrup than I had fruit. Once I had filled three pint jars, I had nearly a pint of cognac syrup left. The temptation was too great. I poured some of the hot liqueur into a coffee cup and had a sip. GLORIOUS! My new favorite winter beverage: hot kumquat cognac! Next time I make this I will intentionally increase the quantity of the syrup and can that separately.
Kumquat Cognac
This morning I retrieved the kumquats that had been soaking their syrup all night. It smelled lovely. I put it on the heat and got it up to a boil. Added a pouch of pectin and attempted to get all of the seeds out while I stirred the mixture for 60 second on the heat, and for another 5 minutes off of the heat. I got a lot of seeds, but not all. I think next time I will cut the kumquats in half and remove the seeds before they soak in their syrup all night.

Despite the seeds though, the crushed kumquats made a tantalizing preserve. I filled 6 jars and processed them for 10 minutes.

Kumquat Preserves
Canning is no small task. I worked from 4 in the afternoon to 10:30 at night without stopping. And then I spent another 45 minutes at it this morning. But despite the grueling hours, I think canning these kumquats was absolutely worth it. I can't wait to share the bounty!

Kumquat Harvest Canned

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