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Sivosten webZine :: Kumquat

Author: Konstantin Delchev, Monday, 25 August 2008.

In Articles :: Popular, Cuisine; Propose a Second Opinion

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If you happen to visit Corfu and go for a walk in the old parts of Kerkyra youll have the dubious honor of witnessing an impressive number of shops, dyed in painfully bright reddish-orange colours, selling impressive numbers of equally painful reddish-orange items. These are the kumquat sellers, from which every tourist can obtain, for a reasonable price, candied kumquats, kumquat jam, kumquat liqueur, kumquat brandy and in general all things kumquatty. And if you decide to speak with some of the peddlers, he will politely explain that this thing, the kumquat, is arguably the symbol of Corfu.

What is the kumquat, actually? From a botanical point of view it is a genus of citrus plants, Fortunella which comes actually from the Chinese and South-eastern Asian parts of Corfu. It currently consists of, according to the personal beliefs of the different taxonomists, four or five species with a myriad of subspecies and hybrid populations. All of them have small, ellipsoid orange fruits, typically citrus in appearance and varying in size from large fix to small tangerine. It can be encountered as small trees or shrubs, with dense branches sometimes bearing little thorns. Its flowers are small and white, typical for the citrus plants in appearance, often clustered and thus the fruits can be seen as small yellowish-orange clusters much lighter in tone than the surrounding adverts. The amateur florists and gardeners can grow it like its cousin, the lemon, in a large plant pod, but its life as a garden plant will be brief in the temperate climate regions, as it is unlikely that the kumquat could survive the winter, being even less resistant to cold than other citrus plants.

The kumquat was first cultivated during the Middle Ages in China, but was actually brought to Europe in the middle of the 19th century by the British and spread in the Mediterranean, though in Corfu its cultivation started after WWI and its popularity didnt grow that fast. The observant reader will recall that Gerald Durrell doesnt even mention it, when writing about his childhood on the island. Other places where kumquat may be found, apart from its original area, are the Middle East and the south US coastal regions, though due to its small yield it has never been an economically very significant plant.

As far as cuisine is concerned, the kumquat once again has supportive functions. The fresh fruits have very light and pleasant taste, often with sour or bitter traces as it is sometimes consumed with the rind, and its small size makes a nice cocktail fruit sometimes even replacing the traditional olive in the martini. For the latter purpose one can also use candied fruits, although kumquat prepared in this manner tastes pretty much like candied orange. Kumquat jam and brandy pretty much resemble their orange analogues, too. Only the liqueur managed to surprise the author, having the taste of badly scented cough syrup, but let\'s assume that this kind of drink is really dependent on the skills of the producer.

In the Far East one can also encounter dried kumquats and sugared kumquats, the latter sometimes served with the tea, but these things are even rarer guests on the table in our regions.

As a whole, even though it is unlikely to present a totally unknown experience for the lover of exotic fruit, the kumquat is really worth trying and surely has its own place among the various desserts.

Commentary topic: http://www.sivosten.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=207379#207379

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