A bit of a whimsical pairing, this. Someone was throwing out a load of roses – they were lying in a sorry heap on the ground, by the bins – so I scooped them up, fished out the earwigs and got to work. In the same week, I found kumquats tumbling all over the road, the tree bowed down by its own luscious bounty, so I shoved as many of them into my bag as I could manage, and walked away whistling (always a sign of guilt).
Anyway, I was brought up to believe a bit of light thieving is not only acceptable, but common sense when we’re talking about food that would rot otherwise. Seeing a laden citrus tree in LA – a common sight, sadly – its golden orbs lolling on the ground mere yards from someone’s front door, makes me feel quite sick. “It’s food!” I want to shout through the letterbox. “You can eat it and everything!” It takes every cell in my body not to jump the fence and fill my pockets, secreting the fruit about my person like a drug mule. To put this in context, I am the daughter of a woman who regularly scaled a neighbour’s wall to forage for dandelion leaves, which she did at nightfall, as if she were about to make off with their stereo. The leaves were for us, by the way, in lieu of salad.
The kumquat is the perfect oval shape, like a little orange egg. The neatness and polish, the deep apricot hue of the skin, lends itself to being shown off on posh after-dinner fruit plates where no one knows what to do with them. They’re so small that it seems a pointless exercise to peel them and you don’t have to, because the rind is in fact the sweetest bit. In an interesting about-turn, the flesh is sour, so the idea is to pop the whole thing in your mouth and crunch. You are expected to eat the seeds. The tree itself has been known to sit at the table – the potted version, I should say – where guests can pluck directly from the branch.
I think these work best candied. It shows off their texture, that nubby rind is almost all there is, and sugar in this setting brings out the sour. It reminds me of a bitter version of quince paste and works well with cheese, particularly Manchego and Cabra al Vino. A chalky, wincing cheddar is also lovely. For breakfast, it takes on a poached complexion, particularly with yogurt. I know I’ve already mentioned apricots; these have more bite but retain the same sweet-sour balance. Limequats, as the name suggests, are a hybrid, and much tarter, more marmalade-like. In fact, both work well as a quick version of the preserve. In ten minutes you have a credible, and beautifully syrupy, burst of sunshine for your morning toast.
Adapted from David Lebovitz
This recipe is adapted from ‘sweet king’ David Lebovitz, who suggests poached prunes as an accompaniment. Interestingly, the rose petal jam is prune-like both in texture and appearance, though lacking the prune’s deliciously plump sloppiness.
1 cup (250ml) water
¼ cup (50g) sugar
15 – 20 kumquats or limequats
2 tbs crystallized ginger, chopped finely
1 cinnamon stick
Slice the kumquats into thinnish rounds and de-seed. Any seeds you don’t get can be easily sieved out later, so don’t worry if some escape you. Bring the water, sugar, cinnamon, ginger (feel free to improvise if you don’t have these) and kumquats to a gradual boil in a small saucepan.
Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on it near the end. The liquid will now be reduced and syrupy. Remove from the heat, take out the cinnamon stick, and let the kumquats come to room temperature. They can keep in the fridge for a good six weeks, stored in an airtight container.
Interesting fact: The kumquat, though it behaves like a citrus, was discovered in 1915 to have enough cellular differences to be moved to a separate genus known as Fortunella, named after Robert Fortune, an English traveller who introduced the fruit into Europe in 1846.
I have been longing to make this jam for some time now, ever since I came across it in Alys Fowler’s book, The Thrifty Forager. I’ve never been much of a rose fancier – who can forget Annette Bening shrieking in her gardening gloves in American Beauty? – but I always hoped to be given some, or at least to be walking past a compost heap at the right moment.
I found my multi-coloured stash took on a deep port-wine appearance, and started to reduce after it was allowed to cook for 20-25 minutes. It managed this cleverly without pectin – I suspect the sugar does most of the work – and the result is delicately toothsome. A faint ‘tearing’ sensation is important here – some resistance, rather than a general jammyness. For breakfast, serve with the candied kumquats over Greek yogurt. Some chopped pistachios would make an interesting contrast.
Rose petal jam
Adapted from The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler
250g (9oz) unsprayed rose petals
1.1 litres (2 pints) water
Juice of 2 lemons
450g (1lb) granulated sugar
Shake the petals free of any bugs, place in a bowl, and add half the sugar. Leave for a few hours or overnight. This infuses the rose flavour into the sugar, and darkens the petals. In a heavy-based pan, add the water, lemon juice and remaining sugar, and heat gently until all the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the rose petals and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rose petals look as if they are melting and have softened. Try one – there should still be a slight bite to it. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil for another 20 minutes or until setting point is reached. Remove any scum that may have risen to the top and allow to cool slightly, stirring gently so that the petals are evenly distributed. Cover and bottle as usual.
If you live in the LA area and have a groaning fruit tree that you can’t deal with or you know someone who does, Food Forward will come round, pick the excess fruit (and vegetables too, if you have them) and distribute them to those in need. You can also get involved in picking the fruit and canning it, and they run hands-on food preserving workshops, with some of the leading LA ‘foodsteaders’.