My compulsive shopping habit struck again, and I bought a pound of kumquats. They always seem like such a good thing to buy, especially given that they are only around for what seem like a few weeks. It’s probably longer, but in the world of the impulse shopper, you rationalise these things by thinking that this just must be too good an opportunity to pass up.
First of all, I got to enjoy eating a few of them. I love the sour centre and the very sweet skins. That zesty tang stays with you for a while, even if you only eat a few. But the prospect of munching through a whole pound of them? Probably not…
So…what was it to be? Having recently got over my marmalade phobia, I thought I would give it another try, this time with the miniature members of the citrus family. I love my bitter marmalade, but I realise that if you’re not such a fan, then something a little sweeter is probably the way to go.
The good news is that, unlike with Seville oranges, there is no tedious de-pithing involved. Just slice up the kumquats (peel, pith and flesh), remove the seeds, soak, boil and you’re done. Well, not quite good news. Removing all those seeds is actually something of a faff, but it’s a good task to do when you’ve got half an hour and a radio programme to listen to. All in all, it’s probably a rather therapeutic exercise to help forget whatever else has been bugging you during the day.
I looked long and hard for a version of kumquat marmalade that would allow me to use little kumquat discs to keep their shape. It was rather a struggle – there were lots of versions that involved squeezing out the pith and pips, and they you shred the peel into strips. Well, I’m sorry, but if you’re not going to have the dainty size of the kumquats featuring in the marmalade, then you might as well use plain old sweet oranges. I wasn’t looking for shredded peel, I wanted circles!
In the end, I just decided to wing it and go back to my basic marmalade recipe, and use kumquats instead of Seville oranges. So I boiled up the fruit the night before, then the next day cooked it up with sugar (mostly white, with two tablespoons of muscovado), lemon juice and some pectin. I was mindful that there would not be as much pectin in this marmalade as my last attempt, so it would be acceptable to use a little helping hand. And the lemon was necessary to add a little sharpness to balance all the sweetness from the sugar and the kumquats themselves.
As you can see, the result looks great and it tastes fantastic. Currently (three days later) it has a very loose set, but this seems to change over time and it tends towards a light set. The “jammy bit” of the marmalade is sweet and lightly orangy, but it’s the peel that packs the punch. It tastes strongly of citrus, and there is not a single hint of bitterness.
You’ll end up with four to five jars of sunshine in spreadable form. It’s great on warm thick-cut sourdough bread with a good spreading of butter. Let the lot melt together slightly, and enjoy!
To make kumquat marmalade:
• 400g kumquats
• 1.2 litres water
• 800g sugar
• 4 tablespoons liquid pectin
• 1 lemon, juice only
• pinch of salt
• small knob of unsalted butter
Wash the kumquats, then slice them finely. As you go, you’ll need to pick out the seeds, which is frankly a pain. Put the slices kumquats into a pan with the water. Put the seeds and any scraps of peel into a piece of muslin – tie the ends an add to the pot.
Cover the pan and bring to the boil, then remove the lid and boil for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover the mixture. Leave to sit overnight.
Remove the pips and discard. Add the sugar to the kumquats and slowly bring to a rolling boil. Add the pectin, lemon juice, salt and butter, and cook the marmalade until it reaches 104°C (219°F) is using a jam thermometer, otherwise test manually(*). During the cooking process, you might have to remove any foam that appears (if you’ve used the butter, this helps keep the foam to a minimum).
When the marmalade is ready, leave to cool a little so that the marmalade thickens slightly (this helps to ensure the pieces of kumquat “float” in the marmalade and don’t sink). Decant the hot marmalade into sterilised jam jars and seal(**). Then enjoy on hot, buttered toast with a cup of tea in the morning!
(*) How to check for a set? Chill a saucer in the fridge. Put a little marmalade on the cool plate, and return to the fridge for a moment. Push with your finger – if the marmalade “wrinkles” when you push it, the marmalade is done. If it stays liquid, then cook longer and check again later. This is why you are better to cook gently but for a longer time, as if you miss the set, the sugar will start to caramelise, and the marmalade will be very thick and sticky.
(**) How to sterilise jam jars? Wash in hot, soapy water, and then rinse very well – do not dry them. Now place up-side down on the shelf of a cold oven, and heat to 100°C / 210°F for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven using gloves, allow to cool slightly (they should still be warm) and fill with the hot marmalade. You can leave the jars in the oven with the heat turned off until you need them, as this keeps the glass warm, and warm glass is much less likely to crack when you add warm jam (science, eh?). Remember to sterilise the lids by washing in hot, soapy water, then rinsing well and then boiling them in a pot of hot water for a few minutes.
Worth making? This is a perfect marmalade for those that don’t like the sharpness and bitterness of the traditional English breakfast variant. The loose set means it can also be used over fruit for a citrussy lift. Highly recommended