Kumquats are sometimes referred to as “the little gems of the citrus family.” It is easy to see why the trees are so prized. Tangy fruits, fragrant flowers, and glossy, evergreen foliage make them a year-round standout in the garden. Gardeners who live outside its hardiness range can grow the small trees in containers and move them to protected places during the winter.
Kumquat trees rarely grow higher than 8 to 10 feet tall, so they are suited for many of today's smaller gardens. Several species are available, but the most commonly grown are 'Nagami' (Fortunella margarita) and 'Meiwa' (Fortunella crassifolia). The 'Meiwa' is delicious plucked and eaten right off the tree. 'Nagami' can be eaten this way too, but get prepared to pucker up, for the fruits are astringent. 'Meiwa' bears a roundish fruit, while 'Nagami' fruits are oblong. While 'Meiwa' is best for eating fresh, the tart 'Nagami' is more prized for recipes.
Kumquats are prized for the garden because the fruits can be picked and eaten right off the tree. In my own yard, I enjoy them for about six months. The 'Meiwa' that I grow blooms very early in the spring and then it bears another crop of blooms a month or so later. With all this blooming and setting of fruit, one can understand why it adds interest to the landscape, the nose, and the palate for a long time.
Folks who have dooryard fruits know what a joy it is to walk outside, pluck a fruit from a tree, and eat it on the spot. Eating kumquat requires a special technique. First, bite off the stem end and spit it out. Then squeeze the pulp and juice into your mouth, spit out the seeds, and eat the remainder of the fruit, peel and all.
Use kumquats in marmalades, jellies, candies, and pickles. Many deserts and salads benefit from the pleasant taste of the kumquat, and the fruits are tasty in pork, fish, poultry, and lamb dishes.
Floral designers make use of the colorful fruits and glossy leaves in winter holiday decorations and floral designs. They are great additions to wreaths, swags, and garlands. In addition, they are an attractive garnish for entrees and beverages.
Kumquats prefer full sun, but in the event that your garden does not have a place with full sun, put it in the sunniest place you can manage. Keep the soil moderately moist, especially during the time that fruit is developing. Among the most cold hardy of the edible citrus, kumquats can be grown in USDA Zones 8 to 10. Kumquats are usually grafted onto the rootstock of the cold-hardy trifoliate orange. Such pests as mealy bugs, chewing insect pests, and various fruit flies may attack kumquat. Contact your local extension office for control recommendations.
Watch for Butterflies
Keep an eye out for the giant swallowtail butterfly, which lays its eggs on citrus plants. While these butterflies may be a serious pest of the citrus industry, they are nevertheless one of the most beautiful butterflies. The caterpillars are called orangedogs, and they closely resemble bird droppings. Unless there is a severe infestation, let them live. If your tree is threatened, the caterpillars can be controlled with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).
Dade City, Florida, the kumquat capital of the world, produces and ships more kumquats than any other place in the United States. Each year, about 30,000 people converge on the city for a weekend of festivities dedicated to this tasty fruit. Month-long activities, including recipe contests, beauty pageants, and decorating contests precede the kumquat festival, which is celebrated on the last Saturday of January.
Kumquats in Recipes
My favorite recipe for kumquats is a pie that is delicious and easy to make. Elegant enough for parties and special occasions, and easy enough for every-day, down-home eating, it is sure to become a favorite. Visit the kumquat grower's website for many other kumquat recipes.
Kumquat Refrigerator Pie
1 baked 9" pie crust, or ready-to-use graham cracker crust
1 (8 oz.) Cool Whip whipped topping
1 cup puréed kumquats
1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup lemon juice
Cut kumquats into pieces and remove the seeds.
Place in a blender with the lemon juice and blend until pureed.
Mix together the Cool Whip and sweetened condensed milk.
Fold in the lemon/kumquat mixture.
Pour into crust and refrigerate several hours until set.
About Marie Harrison
Serving as a board member for Valparaiso Garden Club, the Florida Federation of Garden Clubs and the Deep South Region, and National Garden Clubs takes a chunk of my time and attention. Being a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener crowds a bit more into my busy days. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.