One of the most quintessentially Australian home-made preserves is cumquat (or kumquat) marmalade. Despite its popularity, this citrus preserve has escaped mass commercialisation. It's still something that one makes at home and gives to family and friends. "Commercial" production remains firmly in the "cottage industry" realm, and these small quantities are at farmers' markets, country fairs, school fund raising fairs etc.
What Are Cumquats?
Also spelt kumquat, this species of citrus is native to China and Japan. It was not known to Europeans until 1846 when Robert Fortune, the famous Scottish botanist who managed to smuggle tea plants out of China to India for the East India Company, collected samples of these for the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The botanical name for the cumquat, Fortunella , reflect Fortune's role in the 'discovery'. There are 3 main varieties that are grown for their small golden-skinned acidic fruit:
- Nagami or Oval Cumquat (F. margarita ),
- Marumi or Round Cumquat (F. japonica ), and
- Meiwa or Large Round Cumquat (Fortunella crassifolia ; F. Margarita x F. japonica ).
The cumquat plant is a small bushy tree which can easily be grown in pots. Hardy and cold-resistant, they are very attractive plants, particularly when laden with golden baubles of fruit. It makes a great plant for the patio.
The three Marumi cumquat trees that I planted years ago along one of my fences have now become a 5 metre high, dense hedge which yields absolutely kilos of fruit almost year round. In temperate Melbourne, my biggest crops arrive in late winter/early spring and autumn with a smaller crop during summer. The recent late August pick yielded over 6 kg of fruit.
Uses of Cumquats
Cumquats are not just good looking but great in cooking as well!
Cumquat marmalade has a wonderful sweet-acid balance. Apart from spreading it on your morning toast, it's also great for steamed jam puddings.
Brandied cumquats are another way for preserving them. The brandied fruit makes a lovely after dinner treat, on its own or dipped in chocolate. It can also be used as an ice-cream topping with a drizzle of the brandy preserving liquid. When making steamed cumquat marmalade puddings, I sometimes add some brandied cumquats to the marmalade before pouring the pudding batter over.
Whole candied cumquats are one of the most beautiful candied fruits ...if you can stop the fruit collapsing. The "collapsed" fruit are still delicious even if they aren't pretty. I have only managed achieve perfection once!
Fresh cumquats are also a good substitute for the tropical kalamansi lime (Citrus mircrocarpa ) in Asian cooking. The latter is a small sour fruit which looks like a round cumquat except for coloration. This lime, which turns yellowish green when ripened and has pale yellow flesh, is usually picked used when unripe for squeezing over noodles and sambals (chillie pastes) in Singaporean and Malaysian cuisines.
Recipe: CUMQUAT MARMALADE
The only 'measurement' in this recipe is the ratio of sugar to fruit. Sugar, apart from being a sweeter and a natural preservative, helps increase the density of the mixture and thereby aids in setting.
As I prefer the fruit flavour to dominate and I don't like very sweet jams, I work on a 50% sugar to fruit ratio ie for every 1 kg of fruit, I add 500g of sugar. You can increase the amount of sugar to suit your personal taste.
This method is a 3-day process. [I use this same process for all citrus marmalades.]
Day 1: Clean & Prepare The Fruit
Step 1: Clean the cumquats. Place the cumquats in a large basin of water. Use a small, soft-bristled brush to gently scrub off dirt, particularly around the stem. (Tip: I use a battery operated toothbrush to do this. This toothbrush forms part of my food preparation equipment and is used only for cleaning food. Never use them for anything else and most certainly not for cleaning teeth! )
Step 2: Drain the cleaned cumquats. Using a tweezer, pull out the stems attached to each cumquat.
Step 3: Cut each cumquat in half widthways. Place them in a large bowl made of non-reactive material. [Glass is best, stainless steel is fine. Do not place them into aluminium containers.] Don't worry about de-seeding them at this stage.
Step 4: Pour enough water to just barely cover the cut cumquats. Cover with cling film and leave to soak overnight in a cool place.
Day 2: 1st Cooking of Fruit
Pour the cumquats into a large heavy based pot (not aluminium). Bring the cumquats and water to the boil. Lower the heat and leave to simmer, uncovered, for about 45 minutes or until the fruit is softened. Give the mixture a good stir from time to time. The seeds will separate from the flesh.
Remove from heat and leave to cool.
Day 3: Cooking The Marmalade
Step 1: Using a teaspoon, remove seeds and place them in a small bowl. You will need to stir the mixture to get seeds to float to the top. When most of the seeds have been removed, place all the seeds into a dampened square of double-layer of muslin and tie up tightly.
Step 2: Weigh out the de-seeded cumquat mixture and place it into a large clean pot. Note the weight of the fruit mixture. Weigh caster sugar: I work on 50% of weight of fruit mixture. Add caster sugar to the fruit.
Place the pot over moderate heat. Stir mixture to dissolve all the sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches setting point (105ºC on a candy thermometer). [You can also check for setting point by placing a teaspoon of the mixture on a cold plate and then pushing it with your finger to see if it 'wrinkles' up.]
Step 3: Whilst the marmalade is cooking, sterilise your jam jars. Wash & dry the jars and lids. Then place the jars in a 100ºC oven for at least 10 minutes. [I put my jars in the oven when the jam mixture comes to the boil. The jars are taken out of the oven at the time of potting up the marmalade.]
Step 4: Remove the pot from the heat. Ladle the jam immediately into each hot jar (use a funnel to minimise drips), filing each jar almost to the brim. Seal each jar immediately and turn them upside down to cool.
Foodstuff (author) from Australia on August 27, 2011:
The Good Cook, Thank you! And DO try cumquats! You will love the marmalade!
The Good Cook on August 27, 2011:
A very informative hub. You know, I have never eaten cumquats - must try some!