Schmendrick was Right

No, really: he was.

About three years ago I was having a conversation with my friend Schmendrick, and it happened to come up that I had never eaten a kumquat.  I don’t remember what on earth we were talking about, but kumquats naturally followed from the topic of conversation.

Schmendrick was extremely surprised, but, given his laid-back nature, didn’t react with shock and horror.  In spite of such caution, his monosyllabic replies managed to indicate that the houris had barred me from the celestial gardens and that I was doomed to spend eternity wandering the shadows without even Virgil to guide me.  (To squash about 70 works of literature into one sentence, that is).

Somehow, even with the threat of unending and tedious torment sans a member of the blessed heathen to break up the monotony, I didn’t get around to trying kumquats for three more years.  And I didn’t pick them up with Schmendrick’s endorsement ringing in my ears–I picked them up because of a recipe. 

For the past month, my grocery store has been shelving little clamshells of kumquats next to enormous bags of local cranberries.  I had already begun associating the two in my mind, and when I saw a recipe for a kumquat-cranberry compote, everything snapped into focus.

Naturally, the day that I went to the market intending to buy kumquats, they had none on display.  I had to beg the produce clerk to go check in the back, and even though his acquiescence was reluctant, he brought back an entire flat of the things.  (Is there some flunky in the back scooping kumquats into clamshells?  What’s up with that?)

The clerk left me alone with the kumquats, which meant that I was able to individually select each one by hand.  (I don’t actually know what the characteristics of a ripe kumquat are, but I assume that they’re the same as for any other citrus fruit–skin with no traces of green, feels heavy for its size, isn’t dried out, etc). 

I took 12 oz of the kumquats home, along with a bag of cranberries.  The compote was simple enough to make: I put the kumquats, quartered lengthwise, an equal weight of cranberries and 3/4 cup of simple syrup in a saucepan, brought it to a boil, then simmered it until the berries popped, the kumquats were slightly soft and the whole mixture had thickened.

It was when I was quartering the kumquats that I had my revelation.  It was near lunchtime and I was hungry, so I threw a big one into my mouth, while I quartered the remainder. 


I have heard kumquats described in many appetizing ways, but no one has ever described them in the way that lept to mind when I first tasted them:  they taste like already-candied orange peel.  Without the sand-sugar coating, I admit, but still–candied orange peel!  It was all I could do not to eat the rest of the fruits whole, leaving none for the compote.

I did manage to hold back, and put the rest of the kumquats into the saucepan.  Twenty minutes later I had a ruby-red compote of whole pieces of fruit suspended in thick, clear, jewel-toned juices.  The sweet, almost spicy citrus flavor of the kumquats was an even better match for the tart cranberries than the usual orange, and the kumquat skins added a fabulous chunky texture.  I ate the compote for breakfast every day this week and never once got tired of the sparky, invigorating flavors.

As much as I liked the combination of kumquats and cranberries, I’ve had another kumquat idea in my head for the entirety of the week.  If thinly slivered and made into a compote on their own, would the result not resemble a kind of marmalade?  This I must try. 

Published in: on December 22, 2007 at 9:25 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. 🙂

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