Saturday, September 5, 2009

Fruitful harvests

The only reason I harvested my gorgeous little cumquats so late in the season this year is that I loved the look of them on the tree so much I couldn't bear to remove them. They're just so decorative. But a few have been dropping off of their own free will lately, and Pam almost took a tumble on a squishy one this morning, so that was it. Cumquat harvest day had arrived, for safety reasons!

Nice looking things, cumquats. They're a type of citrus, either Fortunella margarita 'Nagami' (which is what I have) or Fortunella margarita 'Marumi'. They're quite small, a bit over an inch long on average.

The fruit is very, very tart to eat straight, but the skin is extremely thin and the flavour is great – but it's only enjoyable once you've added heaps of sugar via turning it into marmalade or another sweetened recipe, such as the one I plan to do today – marinating them for three months in sugar and brandy. Brandied cumquats. I've heard all about them but have neither tried eating them nor making them. So, perfectly equipped for a beginner's course – ie, I know nothing at all – I dived in!

Here's my potted cumquat straight after the harvest – bare of fruit but not of leaf. These are generally regarded as one of the best citrus varieties for pots. This one is two years old, just starting its third year this spring. No troubles or problems at all, and it even produced a good crop, from which I made a few batches of marmalade, last year.

As for the brandied cumquats, here's the makings. I don't drink brandy at all, so I went out and bought a bottle of the French stuff. For the recipe I'm using, you need a bit less than one bottle of brandy, 500g caster sugar (the fine white sugar you use with all desserts) and 750g washed and dried cumquats.

You'll also need a 1-litre sealable jar, sterilised. I sterilised this brand new one by immersing it in simmering water for about 10 minutes.

Then I let the jar cool and dry for another 15 minutes.

While the jar cooled, I pricked each cumquat three or four times with a metal skewer. A tiresome job, this, which made my hands ache in the same way that writing very long essays by hand at high school used to make my hands ache so many years ago.

Now, at this point the lovely 'how-to' photography broke down somewhat, because the recipe I followed turned out to be naff (ish). The recipe said to add layers of cumquats to the jar, sprinkle with sugar, then repeat the layers of cumquats and sugar till you used them all up. And at the end add enough brandy to completely cover the cumquats (used a bit over half a bottle). Well, I tried that and you ended up with a dense, white layer of sugar occupying the bottom of the jar and a layer of brandy floating on top, with the cumquats caught in the middle. No amount of upending of the jar would persuade the brandy to mingle with the sugar, so everything came out of the jar into my biggest bowl. A large, clean, stainless steel spoon then made everything mingle, and it was all then piled back into the jar. This is the result, pictured above.

The rest of the recipe is this. Store the jar in a dry, dark place. Tumble-turn the jar once a day for a week, to help dissolve the sugar. Then turn the jar over once a week. Keep doing this for three months, by which time the cumquats should be ready to eat.

You can eat the cumquats as a dessert, or as part of a dessert (eg, brandied cumquats on the side served with a yummy cake, such as a chocolate cake). And of course you can also drink the brandy. As I've never tried brandied cumquats this is a whole new world for me, but I'm willing to give it a try. Only time will tell, but I like that sometimes with food – waiting patiently.


Lanie said...

Brandied cumquats - sounds delicious and they look beautiful in the jar. I remember visiting a garden in Victoria where they had a cumquat hedge about 15 metres long, covered in fruit. I think I need one - esp since I can put it in a pot! My tiny Rozelle front yard already has 5 citrus, but no pots on the deck.....

Dot said...

I've never tried cumquats before, in fact, I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't even know what they looked like! The brandied jar looks divine! The tree must have looked marvelous adorned with the fruits, if somewhat dangerous ;) You'll have to post when you finally taste them =)

Linda said...

I used a similar process to this successfully for years - never in that large a jar though. It was always ordinary white sugar, the same weight as the cumquats. There was a think layer at first, but after turning the bottle on its head, and then turning it back when the sugar had dropped through, it was fine after a couple of days. From memory it was cumquats in, add sugar at end, pour in brandy until covered.

The cumquats are also stunning sliced on well-done steak.