This year, I must keep closer tabs on the kumquat tree. Although I remember it blossomed twice last year, I don’t recall when exactly. Poor record-keeping by the lead gardener isn’t a very useful approach to managing the Jasmine Garden.
In truth, though, I didn’t rate the tree particularly highly. That was before I discovered that kumquats make arguably the best marmalade ever!
About a week ago, I gathered the second crop of the season, totalling 2.5 lbs (rather more than 1.1 kg). This followed January’s yield of 1.5 lbs, not bad for a small tree that I estimate to be about 6-7 years old.
When the Engineer first brought the tree, he promised us a satsuma. It turned out to be a surprise, and a puzzle, but we kept it; and I’m very glad we did.
It’s a compact specimen of neat habit, much less given to sprawling and spiking the passer-by than the lime tree nearby, with dark green leaves and abundant small, sweet flowers. It has reached well over 6 feet in height and bears fruit at all levels. This time around, they were massed towards the top of the tree, catching all the sunlight.
But the appearance of the first significant crops this year presented quite a challenge: what to do with them? Kumquats work – up to a point – with sweet potatoes in a rather unusual pasta sauce. For the rest, I turned to a book I’ve had for years but scarcely ever used: “Home Preservation of Fruit and Vegetables” – 1979 edition.
Published by the UK Ministry of Agriculture (MAFF), the book first appeared in 1929. It’s wonderfully business-like, lucid and concise, and covers a whole range of techniques from bottling to jam-making to preparing fruit syrups.
If you want a straightforward, no-nonsense guide to take you through jam or marmalade making (and much more), with a section for trouble-shooting and categorically without the distraction of unreal photos that promise you blissful teatimes in improbable gardens…. well, this is the book for you.
Thank heavens I have it! I’ve always assumed that jams, preserves etc were too complicated for me to make (I’ve no idea why, but I think it was something handed down from my mother, along with a horror of the idea of swimming in the sea).
But, once I set to, I truly enjoyed the process. And we enjoyed the product.
The second batch was even better. I read through the MAFF guide for some pointers on how to refine the marmalade. It worked well to reduce the amount of boiling liquid appreciably: kumquats are delicate-skinned fruit as well as small in size, and don’t need so much initial cooking as, say, oranges. I also reduced the amount of sugar. The final recipe was 2.5 lbs kumquats, 4 pints water and 3 lbs sugar.
On recent visits to London, I have bought San Giuliano marmalades, organic produce sourced from Sicily, as a treat for us. Now, though, there’s a home-grown, organic alternative. Sweet, delicate and utterly delicious, our own kumquat marmalade.