Growing up, I had no idea we could eat this fruit. There were many bushes on the big mound of the Rose Garden at IIT Delhi. While playing there in the summer evenings, we would try to avoid the gardeners’ eyes and pluck a few. They were too sour to really be enjoyed. One time I and my sister ended up with throats so sore that we never ventured near another narangi. Sometime back kumquats surfaced on Indian food blogs and I thought maybe the idea needed a rethink. But no one I knew cooked with them.
A couple of months back we were at Vijay’s cousin’s house for dinner, and his wife, Jyotsna, a fantastic cook, served us narangi pickle made much the same way I make my sweet and sour lime pickle. The fruit was from the trees her mother-in-law had planted outside their ground floor flat. Even in a mature pickle the fragrance of the fruit was remarkable. She told me the next crop would be ready soon. I reserved a portion of the harvest and early this month I got a call from her that the fruit had been plucked and I’d better collect my share as soon as possible. I went that very morning – there was no time to waste – and brought home the bounty.
I knew I was going to make marmalade. But, I also wanted to try other things. I searched for recipes using kumquats. Kumquat caipirinha sounded nice. I like the classic version with lime although I substitute the Brazilian cachaça with vodka, which is readily available. It was after watching Food Safari: Brazil a few years ago that I tried this lime-based cocktail for the first time. Lime and sugar and alcohol, what is there to not like!
As I looked up kumquats, I realised mine looked nothing like the pictures all over the Web. Kumquats are oblong and these were round. Then I searched for “round kumquats” and sure enough there was a variety with round fruit, also called Marumi kumquat. Indian food blogs were identifying this one as Marumi kumquat. The only thing that didn’t fit was the taste – there is no way I could define it as sweet. I tried eating one whole, skin and all, and it was very sour, and the pips could definitely not be eaten. I put it down to a cultivar that was lesser known and went about treating them like kumquats.
Only, they weren’t. For one, you could not slice them and use in a salad as was suggested in many recipes – the slices just collapsed. The skin was so thin and the fruit so juicy that you could only cut it in half, not multiple slices. When I was processing them for marmalade, I cut them in half and barely squeezed over a strainer to catch the really big seeds and all the juice in the measuring cup below. Then I shredded the skin with a knife.
Just now, as I checked the Web one more time, I came across an image of halved fruit that looked a lot like what I had. Now, I really had to make sure. What we call narangi in Delhi, is
kumquat actually calamondin! You say kumquat, I say calamondin. The more I blog, the more I learn! A few years back, I learned what we call lemons in India are actually limes, and now I have discovered a new ingredient, the calamondin. I made kumquat calamondin marmalade just like I make lime marmalade but without chili flakes this time. While I was cooking I wondered if I hadn’t added too much water because the contents in the pan looked very syrupy. The plate test (I am surprised I tested at his stage at all) indicated the marmalade was set and after slight hesitation I turned the gas off and filled the hot jam into the ready jars. I kept tilting the syrupy jam to check if had jelled but it was still warm to tell.
Come morning, much to my relief, after cooling overnight the syrup had set firmly. It is one of the best marmalades I have ever tasted. The intense orange-y flavour is just out of this world! If you can get your hands on a few calamondins, make it! Go foraging; ever since I made it, I’m seeing the fruit all over Delhi. It is grown extensively as an ornamental plant. It is time we discovered its culinary value. If you get your hands on only a few fruit, why, you could make yourself a refreshing calamondin caipirinha!
Adapted from the recipe for Kumquat Caipirinha at CHOW
2 tsp granulated sugar
60 ml vodka (or cachaça)
fresh-squeezed lime juice (from 1 medium lime)
ice cubes to fill the glass
Combine the calamondins and sugar in an old fashioned straight glass and muddle until the calamondins are broken up and the sugar is beginning to dissolve. Add the vodka, lime juice, and ice and stir until the drink is well chilled. Cheers!
Know more about limes, kumquats, and calamondins!