Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Flavor Begins With Color
In March, thousands of kumquats hang from the tree. Not much bigger than quail eggs, their bright orange shapes fill the tree like stars in the Milky Way: too many to count.
I sometimes leave the window nearest the kumquat tree open so even inside I can enjoy the chattering of hummingbirds enjoying a rest within the protection of the kumquat’s twiggy branches. They chirp in auditory dashes and dots. In this avian Morris Code, they sing out an hallelujah chorus. The search is over. No need to wander in search of Eden. Food, water, shelter: all their needs are abundantly met here.
These darting darlings are not just beautiful winged acrobats. They are as practical as they are ornamental. They eat aphids and fruit flies. As they swoop in to flowerbeds to drink in sweet nectar, they pollinate the flowers they visit. The tiny hummingbird comes by this tenant of a very good life without effort. It gives back, without thought of reward, at least equal to what it receives.
The kumquat tree is an excellent choice for home gardens in temperate zones. Situated in a narrow side yard, mine thrives despite benign neglect. It doesn’t need more water than the red apple on the adjoining neighbor’s yard. Their bougainvillea frequently reaches up across the property line fence. The thorny stray arms embrace the fruit laden branches. It is a colorful lesson that some rules are wonderful when broken, Who knew hot pink goes so well with orange. It does in nature.
For many years, we picked the kumquats and popped the oblong fruit whole in to our mouth, never certain when we bit down, if the squirt would be predominantly juicy sweet or vividly sour. No matter, this fastest of food always delighted as it nourished.
And this single tree, which as it reaches towards its 30th birthday is only one story tall, always provides more than enough to share both with visiting wildlife and neighborhood children.
Kumquat Marmalade is not the fastest of recipes to make. But it is a worthy way to slow down. There is a gift that comes from being intimately more involved in the process of actually making the food eat. It slows us down so that we can appreciate the details that prove effort is rewarded. The clarity of color in homemade marmalade promises a fresher taste, without the unappetizing bitterness associated with what is found on the supermarket shelf.
While the instructions on the pectin read that marmalades can take up to two weeks to thicken, I have made this version three times and been able to use immediately and for months afterwards with equal success.
Sterilize jars and new 2 part lids by running through the dishwasher. Try to time the cycle so they are still warm when the jam is ready to go in the jars. The preparation and cooking takes about an hour.
2 cups chopped kumquats
Wash fruit. Cut in quarters, removing seeds. Rough chop until you have enough. Set aside.
Wash. Grate the zest.
Remove the pith from fruit and chunk up the segments
Add oranges and zest in to the kumquats.
1 cup orange juice
6 1/2 cups sugar
1 pkg. Certo Liquid Pectin
In a large pot (6 quarts or so) stir in the fruit mixture, juice, sugar and Certo Jell. Over medium heat, stir until the mixture comes to a boil that cannot be stirred down.
1 Tbsp. Butter
1/8 tsp baking soda
Stir in. Lower the heat and simmer for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Ladle in to sterilized jars up to level or slightly above with the bottom of the thread marks on the jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth or wet paper towel so that any drippings will not affect the seal, which is very important to prevent dangerous spoilage.
The pot to sterilize the jars must be full of boiling water deep enough to cover the jars plus an inch or so. Put the lid on and allow the jars to simmer for 10 minutes.
The jars at this point will be vey fragile. Lift carefully and place on the counter where cold drafts won’t break jars as they cool overnight. As the seals compress, you will hear a little popping.
Here are the warnings that while rare, you need to be aware of. Any jar when touched after it has cooled where the lid does not suck down tight needs to go in the refrigerator to use right away as this indicates the seal is not airtight. If a lid on a jar you open has any “give” before breaking the seal, toss the whole thing in the trash.
In 25 years of jam making, I have only had to refrigerate a couple of jars right away and only had to toss one. So it is rare, but worth noting.