How to grow and serve kumquats

A gardener and a chef team up with advice on growing and serving kumquats.

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    Kumquats (cumquats in Britain) are tiny fruits that are eaten skin and all. The peel is sweet and the flesh is typically sour.
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This past December, I (Anne Moore, a gardener) harvested my first fruit from a seed-grown tree. It's a very unattractive tree. It is somewhat leafy at the bottom on the original growth. This past summer it decided to shoot up a trunk with leaves and one little fruit at the top of its four feet. Somehow, I missed the flowering phase.

The tree (and I use the term loosely) is at least 10 years old. It grows in part shade in a very infertile area. It has been evergreen its whole life and maybe if I paid more attention to it, it would be an attractive little tree. It has developed very long, wicked thorns all along its trunk. The fruit is very small, all seeds, with a smooth citrus-flavored sweet skin, just like a kumquat with no pulp.

Grow indoors or outside

Kumquats, even though they appear to be citrus, were moved to the genus Fortunella in 1915, according to Purdue University. If you purchase a young grafted tree, you won’t have to wait ten years or more for it to bear fruit and the fruit will be edible.

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If you live in USDA Zones 8-9 (sheltered spot in zone 7), you can plant it outdoors in a sunny spot. Otherwise, grow it in a sunny window indoors and full sun outdoors during the summer months. The roots should never dry out but they also cannot be in standing water. Use a slow-release fertilizer.

To raise the humidity indoors, mist it daily or raise it up on pebbles in a saucer of water. You can enjoy these little "oranges" as decorations or in recipes, like the one from Linda, next.

Kumquats, a childhood favorite

As a small child, I (Linda Weiss, a chef) loved kumquats. My grandmother could never understand why I liked the citrusy, sweet rind, that held bitter flesh, and I can hear her saying, just like yesterday, “of all things,” as I picked up a kumquat and took two bites to finish it.

Fast forward to almost 60 years later, and I still like them -- except that I eat them a couple of different ways now, but mostly preserved. The preserving of kumquats is easy, and you will be surprised at what a fresh flavor this tiny little orange fruit can bring to so many different foods, such as herb-roasted chicken, a simple piece of toast, or just a few tablespoons added to the side of a vegetable plate.

Kumquat Preserves

 2 pounds kumquats

4 cups sugar

2 lemon slices (about ¼ -inch thick)

4 cups water

Wash the kumquats thoroughly. Prick each one with a fork. Put them in a pan large enough to cover them with boiling water, and simmer them for 25 to 30 minutes or until they are tender. Drain.

Combine the sugar, lemon slices, and the 4 cups of water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Add the kumquats and boil gently for 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to stand, covered loosely, overnight (or all day if you start in the morning), so that the fruit will plump.

Take out the lemon slices and discard. Place the kumquat mixture back on the stove and bring to a boil.

Skim the kumquats from the syrup with a slotted spoon, and put them in hot sterilized half-pint jars. Continue to boil the syrup until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. This may take 8 to 10 minutes. Pour the boiling syrup over the kumquats, covering them to 1/4-inch from the top of each jar. Clean rims, and seal at once. Refrigerate or freeze. If freezing, leave one-inch space between the fruit and the top of the jar. Cool before freezing. Makes 2 to 3 pints, depending on the size of the fruit.

Editor's Note: To read more of Anne and Linda's "how to grow and prepare" series, click here.

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Linda Weiss is a personal chef. She attended Le Cordon Bleu of Paris’ catering program and is a professional member of The James Beard Foundation and the Southern Foodways Alliance. Her cookbook, "Memories From Home, Cooking with Family and Friends" is available at Amazon.

Anne Moore is an award-winning freelance writer. She is the horticulture editor, gardening consultant, and e-newsletter editor for GardenSmart.tv. She is a member of the Garden Writers Association. Follow Linda and Anne as they blog at www.thegardenerandthechef.com

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