Next to the temperate weather, one of the nicest things about living in Florida is the abundance of citrus fruits we have here. Several years ago, I planted a kumquat tree in my front yard. It’s a spindly, sad-looking, little thing. But, every year around this time, it give me masses and masses of lovely, plump kumquats.
Kumquats are an eclectic little fruit. While they look like miniature oranges, they’re not at all like the Valencia and Temple oranges that they share my yard space with. For one thing, a kumquat’s edible rind is thin, soft and sweet, while its flesh is bitter. Most people eat the rind and toss the rest. For another thing, they don’t have much juice in them. You can usually squeeze out a scant teaspoon or so to add to a cocktail, but that’s pretty much it. One thing they do have in common though, is that they’re both great for candying.
A few weeks ago, after picking a large basket full of fruit, I decided to candy them. I love doing this because candied kumquats keep forever in the fridge. Plus, you can use them in so many different kinds of recipes, both savory and sweet. By themselves, kumquats have a bit of a bite, so I like to toss a split vanilla bean in with them as they poach. The vanilla really mellows the kumquats and adds a lovely, subtle flavor.
There isn’t a whole lot of finesse involved in candying kumquats. You basically just simmer them in water and sugar until they start to fall apart. By that time, the fruit will have become soft and squidgy, and poaching liquid will be a thick, luscious syrup.
Candied kumquats can be baked into cakes or muffins, used as a topping for tarts, custards or ice cream, and even cooked into savory dishes like chicken or pork. They also make a great accompaniment to various cheeses. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. However, when I do use them in cooking or baking, I discard the flesh and seeds and just use the skins. Aside from being bitter, the insides are just plain mushy and unattractive. The syrup can also be used as a flavoring in baked goods, frozen treats and all sorts of beverages. Try swirling some into a glass filled with ice cold seltzer water for a nice, refreshing drink.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a kumquat tree growing in your yard, don’t fret. You can almost always find fresh kumquats this time of year at your friendly neighborhood supermarket. They probably won’t be as pretty as mine, but they’ll still taste great!
Candied Vanilla-Poached Kumquats
- 2 pounds kumquats, stems removed
- 4 cups water
- 4 cups sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- Fill a medium-sized heavy bottom saucepan halfway with water and bring up to a boil over high heat. Drop the kumquats in the boiling water and blanch for one minute. Drain the kumquats over a colander and discard the blanching water. Clean and dry the pot.
- Put the sugar in the pot and add the 4 cups of water. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a pairing knife and scrape the seeds with the back of the knife. Put the vanilla pod and seeds into the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the blanched kumquats. Simmer the kumquats in the syrup for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the skin of the kumquats is soft and translucent.
- Remove the the candied kumquats to a glass container. Simmer the candying liquid over medium-low heat for another 10 minutes or so until it resembles a thick syrup. Pour over the kumquats and let sit until cooled. Cover and store in the fridge. They will keep for several weeks.
The kumquats and the syrup can be used as a dessert topping, in cocktails and in various sweet and savory dishes.
Yields 2 pounds candied kumquats.