Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Spiced Kumquat Compote

Perfumed winter kumquats
How very rude the word 'cumquat' looks in black and white. I can barely type it without blushing, let alone say it out loud to my greengrocer or my children.

It doesn't help to spell it 'kumquat', with a 'k', or to know that its Cantonese etymology is entirely innocent: it's the sound of the word colliding with my brain-bank of slang words that makes my ears shrivel.

It reminds me of that apparently innocent yet raspingly vulgar-sounding name, 'Slartibartfast'. Invented by the late, great Douglas Adams, this is a word that one really cannot say out loud in polite company. (Here, by way of contrast, is my post about evocative food words.)

I always know that winter has arrived in Johannesburg when I visit my greengrocer and find mountains of beautiful little oval citrus fruits, each one a dazzling orange and about the size of a quail's egg. Thin-skinned and wonderfully aromatic, these little kumquats darlings are dirt-cheap and plentiful when in season in South Africa, and are just lovely when cooked in a light, spicy sugar syrup, or pickled with sugar and vinegar.

This compote keeps well in the fridge for up to three weeks. It' s delicious with a slab of cold smoky ham and wedges of sharp Cheddar, and equally good poured over vanilla ice cream, along with an optional dash of Van Der Hum or Cointreau. Or try the fruits dipped in dark chocolate: see end of this post.

I used a small quantity of whole spices in this dish (all of them warming spices that pair nicely with citrus flavours) because I wanted the sharp citrus fragrance of the orangey rind to predominate. You can add whatever spices your heart desires, but I would advise against cinnamon, which, in spite of its gentle, woody, spicy name, is just too aggressive a flavour.

If you like kumquats, try my recipe for Chocolate-Dipped Half-Candied Kumquats.

Spiced Kumquat Compote

1½ cups (375 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) white granulated sugar
a 10-cm strip of thinly pared lemon rind
juice of half a lemon
1 blade of mace
8 whole coriander seeds
6 whole peppercorns
1 cardamom pod, lightly crushed
300 g ripe kumquats

Put the water, sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice and whole spices into a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring now and again to dissolve the sugar. Cook briskly for 5 minutes. Now tip in the whole kumquats, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 25 minutes or so, or until the fruit is soft, slightly transparent and beginning to look wrinkled. Remove from the heat.

Set aside and allow to cool completely. Remove the spices and lemon rind, decant into a lidded container or a glass jar, and place in the fridge.

Makes about two jars.

Cook's Note: if you'd like a really spicy compote, leave the whole spices in the syrup.

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