Market Matters- Drunken Kumquats

kumquats floating in vodkaKumquats. Do you love them? They are one of the lesser known and most misunderstood members of the large and diverse citrus family. 

They are also my Market Matters choice this week. I just could not let citrus season slip by without choosing at least one example to discuss and create with this year. After all, I live in Southern California. We are known for our citrus.

And that’s because we have a nearly perfect climate to grow so many varieties of them. Kumquats included.

The funny thing about a kumquat is it is most prized for it’s sweet skin. Most citrus is eaten primarily for it’s sweet, juicy pulp. 

Kumquats are the “bon-bon” of the citrus world. They are mostly enjoyed by simply popping one into your mouth and eating it whole. When you do this you will experience a rush of flavor. They are that intense. Like little flavor bombs. 

This flavor is much more complex than any other citrus too. Adjectives that come to mind are: citrusy, fresh, pungent, herbal. Perhaps even woodsy. There is also a definite undertone to them that can only be described as “oily”. Well, that is how David Karp recently described it in a recent LA Times article. It’s a good word to describe an unusual sensation of the mouth too. So I’ll stick with it myself.

Some of the very best liqueurs in the world have a lot of these same characteristics. Fresh, pungent, woodsy– these words bring to mind some of those famous little sippers like: Absinthe, Amaro, Cointreau, Curacao, Galliano, Jagermeister, Ouzo, Sambuca, and yes, to a lesser extent even limoncello.

This was my AH-HA! moment. And my inspiration of what I’d do with some of my kumquats.

Now I have made limoncello before. It’s fun. It keeps forever in the freezer and makes a great gift. So I thought I would take advantage of the complex herbal qualities of the tiny kimquat and make a mighty liqueur! I guess I’ll be calling it a “kumquacello”. Though that sounds a bit awkward. Maybe you could suggest a good name. There is plenty of time to think about it too. Because it’s going to take a few weeks until my creation is ready for imbibing. So please put your creative brains in gear and suggest names. I’ll pick the winner. I wish I could send the winner a bottle, but I think that’s illegal. But any and all of you are welcome to pop by the house and sample some if you are in the neighborhood. Bring your ID ’cause I card.

The traditional way of making limoncello is to use the peels of good lemons. Really just the topmost layer of lemon peel, avoiding the bitter white pith as much as possible. But with my kumquats it’s just way too silly to sit there and try to peel them. So I am going to keep them in all their complete flavor bomb glory and use them whole. Forget peeling and pithing.

vodka soaked kumquatsThe next step is to steep the fruits in alcohol. I am going to use an 80 proof vodka. Most recipes you find for limoncello suggest a 100 proof liquor. By the time you add in the simple syrup this would give you a standard 60 proof liqueur.

However, finding 100 proof alcohol was a bit of a chore. It’s a gorgeous, sunny Sunday afternoon here and I did not want to spend all day driving all over town. So I am using a standard 1.5 liter 80 proof vodka that will yield me a perfectly potent 50 proof kumquacello.

The kumquats look so pretty floating in the vodka filled jar I have I am going to let this sit out in plain site while it steeps. It’s like a little art statement. But it does not stay pretty forever, and that’s a good thing. As the fruit steeps the alcohol will leech out all the flavor and color leaving us with dull little spent flavor bombs. This should take about two weeks. But you’ll know the right time when you get there.

Once you feel confident that all the flavor has left the fruit. Put about 4 cups water and 4 cups sugar in a saucepan and gently boil until it turns clear. This is a standard simple syrup. Let the syrup cool completely then strain the vodka from the fruit and mix it with another 1.5 liter bottle of vodka and the syrup. Put the kumquat liqueur in bottles, seal tightly and let the components come together for at least 1 week. Store the liqueur in the freezer.


Greg Henry