Kumquat Marmalade – A Photographic Guide
Winter in the northern hemisphere brings some ingredients which I’d been waiting for the whole year. Persimmons, honey apples and chestnuts just to name a few. Despite being in tropical Singapore, I prescribe to the old Chinese ideology of “不时不食” which basically means that one eats according to the seasons. The winter fruits are always worth the wait as the cold impedes the ripening process allowing the fruits to store more sugars before reaching their prime. One fruit I’d always try to lay my hands on during this time of the year are kumquats, not because they are good for eating, but for making marmalades.
I enjoy making marmalades, jams and conserves for quite some years now. The season for some fruits are so short we hardly get a chance to enjoy them properly before they are gone. I guess that is what makes us yearn to try them again in the seasons to come. Making marmalades out of the seasonal fruits is another way of prolonging one’s enjoyment. Some may disagree and think that “Carpe diem” to enjoy the fruits as they are still fresh is the right and only thing to do. But there are some fruits which are hardly any good for eating, like Seville oranges which are too bitter, quince too hard and fibrous, rhubarb too sour. But when they are made into jams and confits, my oh my the flavours and textures transform. bringing forth a totally different dimension of these fruits one would never get to experience when they are fresh. To me that is the beauty of “confituring”.
There are various schools of thought when it comes to making confitures. Many of them push the sugar levels near and sometimes beyond the limits, like those store bought ones, good enough for the jams to be kept for a very long period of time, years at ends sometimes. But to me that seems like overdoing it. Confituring serves to preserve the flavours of the fruits sufficiently long for us to enjoy it until the next season and depending on fruits, that can mean as long as a year, like in the case of kumquats or as short as just a couple of months like the berries. I bring the sugar levels slightly lower than what some would use. In doing that, the shelf life is invariably shorten, to about 8 to 12 months in the chiller but the flavours of the fruits come through more easily. Some subscribe to a minimum 65% by weight rule for sugar to fruit for jam making. I don’t do that. Instead, I choose to experiment with individual kinds of fruit I wish to make jams out of as they all carry different brix levels. Some may need more than 65% while others can afford a lot less.
We get several varieties of Fortunella this season, the round chubby ones from Japan as kinkans, China and even from longish oval organic ones from Malaysia. Whichever the case, I like to soak them with some warm water to remove any chemicals that might have been used during their cultivation. This is followed by rinsing them several times with running water. Only the firm and perky ones are picked nd used, while the soften and mouldy ones get discarded.
The kumquats are then cut into halves and then deseeded using a skewer or scribe. But be sure to save the seeds, which will be boiled together with the sliced kumquats to extract the pectin, a natural gelling agent which is in abundance in citrus fruits, so much so that marmalading when done properly doesn’t require any commercial pectin added at all.
Saving the seeds aside, the kumquats are sliced into rings. You can cut them into any shape and size you wish, or even leave them in halves if you decide to go for chunkier bits but generally, the smaller the morsels cut, the more surface area there will be for faster cooking and release of pectin in the rind.
This is what it looks like on Day 1 with everything going into a large pot. Unlike the traditional ways of making jams where the fruits are boiled continually until they soften and when the candy thermometer reaches a certain temperature, I’m using a more subtle way of cooking the fruits which yields much better results I feel. The fruits stay in their original colours and since the jams do not darken from overcooking the sugars due to slight caramelisation. Prolonged cooking may also cause the sugars to hydrolyse which isn’t a bad thing but simple sugars tend to break down more easily after hydrolysis. So I am not for prolonged boiling for jam making at all.
Despite kumquats being sourish in nature, the juices of oranges and lemons are added as well. Orange juice is added because kumquat are naturally void of much liquids in them but we do need a certainly amount of fluids for the marmalading process to take place. Instead of adding all water, I add orange juice instead. Since mandarin oranges are in season now, I’d used those killing two birds with one stone as I could do with more seeds from them as well.The seeds are held in a dye-free muslin or cotton bag so that they can be removed easily after the marmalading is done.
Lemon juice is quintessential in jam making. Bringing down the pH values not only helps to inhibit the growth of microbes thus allowing the marmalades to be enjoyed for a longer period of time, an acidic environment is also needed for the extraction of pectin as well. So here’s a bit of 101 Food Chemistry for you guys.
This is what Day 2 looks like. The rind has turned slightly translucent and the liquids slightly reduced and thickened from the brief boiling, followed by cooling on the first day. At this point, the jam is actually good to eat on its own already but it doesn’t have the correct consistency for prolonged storage yet.
And finally this is what the kumquat marmalade would look like on the 3rd and last day of the process where the marmalade takes on an exuberantly golden hue with the correct consistency. It may seem like a long process but bearing in mind, we only bring the cooking marmalade to a boil before turning off the flame each time.
The traditional checking method for consistency is to use a plate which had been chilled in the freezer for at least 20 minutes. Place a dollop of hot jam onto the plate and run a clean finger down the middle of the small puddle of jam. When the jam reaches the right consistency, the two separated pools should remain parted and the reason is simple. Pectin sets at low temperatures thus exercising their gelling properties more effectively to hold the fruit pulp and the sugars more tightly together to achieve the desired viscosity, thus preventing the jam pools from merging again. One basically just needs to do this the initial trials in jam making. It wouldn’t be long before experience kicks in when one only needs to eyeball the consistency of the jam while it is still cooking to know that the jam is ready.
And this is what the exhausted seeds in the cheesecloth bag looks like on Day 3, shriveled and thoroughly spent, having imparted all of the pectin unto the jam itself. They can be discarded at this point or for me, used as fertiliser for my plants since the heat would have also broken down other components within the seed making them more easily worked on by the decomposers and subsequently absorbed by the plants. I have digressed…
The marmalade making is completed after three days with the canning done all ready to be given away to friends, a small treat every year for those who had been good and kind to me over the past year. Special care must be taken on the final day’s heating process as constant stirring is required to prevent the jam from burning at the bottom. The canning process can also be a bit tricky as the jars need to be really hot and properly sterilised before the jam can be poured into them for a good seal. This is often preventive and may not be entirely necessary to preserve the integrity of the jam, especially when it will be eaten in quick successions. Unless I can source for good quality kumquats, I think this year’s kumquat marmalading is done, in eager anticipation of next year’s crop for more marmalade to go around.
Kumquat Marmalade Recipe
1 kg fresh kumquat
700-800g granulated sugar
Juice from 2-3 lemons
Juice from 5 oranges
seeds from all the kumquat, lemons and oranges
water as needed
Soak the kumquats in warm water for 15-20 min.
Rinse the kumquat thoroughly with clean water to wash away any residual chemicals.
Halve the kumquats and remove the seeds.
Slice the kumquat into thin rings or whichever shape and size you may desire.
Add the sliced kumquat, sugar, juice from lemons and oranges into a large ceramic, enamel-coated or copper pot. Do not use stainless steel, cast iron or aluminium ones!!!
Add enough water to make sure all the kumquat slices are just submerged in the liquids.
Place all the seeds from the citrus fruits used in a cheesecloth bag and secure well. Place the bag of seeds into the pot as well.
Bring the mixture to a boil before lowering the flame to a simmer for 10-15 min, stirring periodically.
Skim off any scum that forms on the surface.
Turn off the flame and leave the pot to cool down to room temperature before covering.
Day 2 morning
Bring the mixture to a boil again and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring periodically.
Skim off any scum that forms on the surface. It should be considerably less than Day 1.
Turn off the flame and leave the pot to cool down before covering.
Repeat Day 2 morning procedure again in the evening of Day 2.
Remove the bag of seeds from the pot. Squeeze to extract all the pectin from within into the pot directly.
Bring the mixture to a boil again and stir carefully but continually to prevent the thickened jam from sticking to the bottom which can burn and char the base of the pot.
Simmer for 5 minutes with stirring and perform “cold plate test” to check consistency if necessary. See above for instructions.
Pour the hot jam into sterilised jars and seal properly by inverting the lidded jars onto a heatproof surface.
The kumquat marmalade making process is now done.