In our family, it’s almost always the case that family game night devolves into a mess of childish disgruntlement. Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble are the worst offenders. Excelling at either requires subject matter expertise irrelevent for most other endeavors, but getting eight questions in a row wrong does not a happy game nighter make.
Of course, we always play Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. Forming teams softens the ego blows, but Dad – with his internal encyclopedia of semirelevant facts – doesn’t need such allowances. Fair teams look like this: Mom and Shannon; Jimmy and George; Dad (and the dogs).
One night, as Dad ran circles around the board with a string of correct answers and my mom and I struggled to get one piece of Trivial Pursuit pie, George and Jimmy missed what was, in my opinion, an exceedingly easy question about citrus fruits. I paraphrased the correct answer as “KUMQUATS, idiots!”, a mild expletive that’s managed to enter our everyday parlance.
This says something about our citrus consumption and my affinity for the little inside-out citrus fruits now colloquially known as kumquats (idiots!). Kumquats are about the size of the top part of your thumb, and are eaten whole. Unlike most citrus fruits, a kumquat’s skin is sweeter than its flesh.
I eat kumquats like grapes, popping them one by one from a bowl at my desk. Sliced crosswise into thin circles, they’re a colorful addition to grain and green salads. Although even in their raw state kumquats play well with Middle Eastern food, preserving them in salt makes the pairing a no-brainer.
Preserving kumquats offers quicker satisfaction than does salting their more commonly preserved brethren, lemons. While preserved lemons sit in their salt and spice bath for a few weeks, tender kumquats need little more than a long weekend to take on an unctuous, briny quality.
As with so many delicate and flavorful preparations, I can thank Alice Waters for the preserved kumquat inspiration. Since George gave me her new cookbook, The Art of Simple Food II, for Christmas, I’ve bookmarked at least a quarter of the recipes! The outline that follows is a mix of her instructions and the general process I follow for preserving lemons.
What to do with a jar or two or three of preserved kumquats? Purée or chop and add to dressings and sauces, or slice thinly lengthwise and add to braised greens. Add little preserved kumquat rounds to bean, green, and grain salads. Mix with chopped olives, raisins, extra-virgin olive oil, and red wine vinegar for a zippy tapenade. Stir into a bowl of ho-hum hummus. I even found a way to eat them for breakfast: peel and slice a pomelo (or other sweet citrus fruit) into rounds, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and good-quality apple cider vinegar. Top with preserved kumquat slices and slivered almonds. So fancy!
adapted from The Art of Simple Food II
You’ll need a jar or two, depending on how many kumquats you score. Kumquats are in season during the winter, so get your hands on them now! Wash kumquats, remove any nubby little stems, and make a lengthwise slit in each one.
Sprinkle a 1/8-inch layer of kosher or sea salt (iodized salt will NOT work) on the bottom of your jar. Pinch each pre-slit kumquat open and stuff it with salt. Pack kumquats into the jar, adding optional spices as you go. Some of my favorites include peppercorns, cardamom, non-smoked chili peppers, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and allspice berries. Gently push down on each layer to pack ‘em in without excessive squishing.
When the jar is nearly full, top with a layer of salt and then pour in enough lemon juice (ideally Meyer, as its less-acidic nature is a good match for the sweet kumquats) to cover. Screw lid onto jar and store at room temperature for two or three days, inverting the jar a couple times each day to distribute the salt.
Preserved kumquats will last a long time in the fridge, but will soften over time. The resultant liquid is almost as delicious as the actual kumquats, so be sure to use it, too!