Saturday, April 3, 2010

Presidential Kumquats

The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace has a bumper crop of kumquats. The six beautiful trees, three on each side of the reflecting pool, are loaded with the picture perfect fruit. Daughter Marja and I couldn't resist. We harvested the little flavor-bombs to make kumquat marmalade.

Harvesting kumquats on the Library grounds.

I tried hard to find the Nixon/Kumquat historical background, but alas, there doesn't seem to be anything too major. The home where the 37th President was born (the very first baby born in Yorba Linda) was a citrus grove. His father, Frank Nixon worked hard to earn a living as a citrus farmer, but it was a tough task. After interviewing several docents and long-time staffers, it was decided that Hannah Nixon, the President's mother, must have had at least one kumquat tree somewhere close. I found an old reference to "Hannah's Kumquat Kitchen," but no other information was included. We have to assume that she cooked with some of the fruit that surrounded her home.

When the library grounds were taking shape, the landscapers wanted to honor it's "citrus roots". Unfortunately, the only citrus tree that could take the large amount of water necessary for all the other plantings, and especially Mrs. Nixon's roses, was the hearty, tolerant kumquat tree. Kevin Cartwright, involved in those decisions, says the kumquat came to represent all the ancestral citrus species that once lived on the site. Hazel Betts, a master gardener docent, and Bob Lyons, an original docent, still very much involved in the day to day activities, confirms this as well.

Coyote Base has been smelling way-orangey-sweet for almost a week now. When eating a kumquat right off the tree, the experience is a total flavor burst in the mouth. First the sweet rind, then the sour fruit. Wowser, wowser. It kind of makes your eyes water and your lips pucker. So, that's the reason we decided to cook them.

Kumquats are native to China and arrived in California around 1880. Today the state grows the most kumquats in this country, on about 133 acres of kumquat groves. While not widely available in grocery stores, we saw some at the Yorba Linda farmer's market. We also planted a kumquat tree in our Tucson yard.

We tried several different recipes, and decided the best, and least labor intensive was this one, that we chose to call "Presidential Kumquat Marmalade." So here it is, if you want to make some for yourself.

Yield: 8 cups

2 lbs kumquats (4 cups)
1 lime
1 lemon
3 1/2 cups sugar
6 cups of water
1 tsp vanilla
8 1/2-pint mason jars

Squeeze lemon and lime. Gather the juice and pulp.
Wash and dry kumquats.
Thinly slice them.
Remove seeds (HINT: If you cut in half, not length-wise, seeds will be on one side. I know, we were amazed too!)
Place sliced kumquats, all juice, water and sugar in a pot.
Bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium low and cook for 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, content should be syrupy.
Cover, set aside and let sit overnight at room temperature.
Next day, bring kumquat syrup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to desired thickness. (Our first batch was a little watery.) Then we learned to cook it to a beautiful dark brown orange color.
Stir once in awhile, using a wooden spoon
Bring to a boil again.
Skim off any foam that develops.
Add vanilla.
Fill mason jars with marmalade.
Fill a big pot of water and bring to just under a boil. Place filled jars in water and boil for 10 minutes.
If you want to freeze the marmalade, you can skip the "canning" process.

To one batch, we added red pepper, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, apples and raisins to make a delicious chutney.

We pureed one batch and froze it for future cookies, cakes, etc.

And, how about a kumquat marmalade cocktail? Don't laugh. General Omar Bradley invented a drink using orange marmalade. He favored orange slices in his bourbon, and when he was posted to some remote area of the world, there weren't any fresh oranges. He noticed a jar of orange marmalade on the table and the resulting cocktail was named for him. It is delicious with scotch also.

Our final kumquat kount:
32 jars of kumquat marmalade
4 jars of kumquat chutney
1 large zip lock bag of pureed kumquat preserves.

We will be sharing the end product with the folks at the Library. We hope everyone will think the marmalade is as delicious as we do. It was a big project, but a fun salute to "Hannah's Kumquat Kitchen," and the hearty fruit that has come to represent Frank Nixon's citrus grove, the boyhood yard of the 37th President of the United States. Kudos to the Kumquat!

1 comment:

Gail said...

YUMMMMY! I look forward to that "sharing" you mentioned!