One of the most frustrating—and also exciting—aspects of seasonal produce is its unreliability. One summer you may be waiting weeks for that first perfect apricot; the following spring, you may find tender baby asparagus weeks before you expect them.
I love the seemingly endless parade of citrus varieties throughout the winter, but I'm particularly happy at the end of the season when kumquats arrive to jolt me out of my root-vegetable-and-tangerine stupor. Kumquats are the ideal end-of-winter fruit: they have a touch of bitterness (they are one of the few citrus fruits that you eat, peel and all) and a zingy flavor—if you could pack all of the flavor of a fantastic tangerine into a package the size of a grape, this is what you'd end up with.
As I progressively bored of apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines this winter, I began to keep my eye out for kumquats. January passed, then February. March rolled on by, and the next thing I knew it was spring. When April arrived and I began finally seeing a few lone baskets of kumquats, I snatched them up like I'd never see them again.
While kumquats can certainly be eaten raw, I usually halve and simmer them in syrup (sometimes spiked with mint) for a simple compote. They're also delicious in savory dishes (stuffed in roasted fish or cooked into a spicy glaze for chicken), and I've been meaning to try a sorbet or granita, too. This time, I managed to keep my conniving fingers off of them long enough to make a preserve, a perfect bridge from winter to spring, bursting with zesty citrus and spicy ginger.
I hope you can take advantage of this recipe; here we are, well into May, and I'm still seeing kumquats all over the market.
Not for long, though, I'm sure—they're moving over for strawberries already.
Once upon a time I didn't worry about preserving my jams and marmalades in a boiling-water bath. I still don't worry about health issues in particular, but the discoloration common in well-sealed, unprocessed cans bothers me enough that I started hauling out the canner again. Do as you prefer
Scant 3 pounds whole kumquats (about 1 ½ quarts)
½ cup peeled and minced ginger, packed
1 pound sugar (about 2 cups)
1 cup water
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Pick over the kumquats for any bad fruit, then blanch them in water for 1 minute. Drain; pour cold water over. Slice the fruit into 3 or 4 pieces, picking out and discarding all seeds; transfer cut fruit into a clean heavy pan (about 4-5 quarts is a good size).
Peel and mince a good-sized knob of ginger; measure ½ cup, packed, and add to the fruit (you can reserve any additional ginger for stir=fry or another use). Add the sugar and water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until ginger is beginning to soften and the marmalade is ready to set, 45 minutes to 1 hour (I am partial to the freezer test: place a couple saucers in the freezer; as you want to test the preserve, put a dab on a place and return to the freezer for a minute. Press the edge of the preserve with your finger; if it wrinkles, it's ready).
Meanwhile, wash (and sterilize, if desired) your jars. Fill with marmalade, leaving ¼ inch headspace. If processing in a bath of boiling water, process 10 minutes. After removing from the water bath, let sit undisturbed 12-24 hours; remove any unsealed jars to the fridge.
Makes about 5 half-pint jars