Cumquat marmalade, a dream

Pick up a cumquat. Bite into it. That’s it. Now again, with gusto. Bitter? Sour? Both? Think about it for a few minutes. As those original flavours dissipate, what comes through as well. A perfume? An underlying sweetness? What you have done is to work out the sort of flavours you want, and those you don’t, when you make the raw fruit into marmalade.

This is the basis of all cooking. Taste it first. Don’t just wade blindly through the fog of yet another recipe. Don’t believe what you read: try it first and make up your own mind.

Sometimes you get to first base after tasting the end result first, which is what happened to me with cumquats. I had been led to believe that they were just another ornamental citrus, not worth a cracker for anything but making the patio look sharp.

Then I happened across a jar of cumquat marmalade, and now I’m hooked. It’s that after-sweetness that does it. And look again at that fruit you have chewed into: note the ultra thin skin, where all the bitter flavours and some of the sweet, are housed; note the thinness of the membrane surrounding the inner segments; note the number of pips in each fruit. This is not likely to be a chunky marmalade, laden with tough membrane – but it is going to take one hell of a time to get rid of all those damned pips.

Once you’ve picked out those accursed seeds – why have seeds been bred out of certain grapes and mandarins, but not cumquats? – the rest is a Cakewalk. Just whizz up your fruit with some sugar, toss the lot into the microwave, and relax.

Don’t attempt to make huge quantities. Make a reasonable amount, and do it two or three times through the season. This way, you’ll always come back, and not be marmaladed out. The presumption here, of course, is that you don’t have a laden tree. If you do, make plenty of jam, and give it away. Or better, make a little, and give the rest of the fruit away in the expectation of some jam in return.

If you don’t have a tree, the best way to get some fruit is from a lazy friend who has a prolific tree. Offer to make the jam for a jar. For every two kilos of fruit, offer a jar in return. If your fruiterer hasn’t got any, ask him/her to get some from the market. Most fruiterers don’t keep cumquats on spec – most prefer to take orders and be sure of selling. If you are picking them yourself, snip them from the tree, stem and all. If you rip them off, they don’t keep well at all.

  • 1 kg cumquats, the weight after the stems and seeds have been removed
  • 750g sugar
  • Take it as a rule: 75 per cent by weight of sugar to fruit.
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    Remove any stems from the fruit as you remove the seeds. Do this job over a bowl to catch all the juice which runs free. Don’t worry if you are rough with the fruit. Things will only get rougher. Set aside the seeds. Be patient. Removing the seeds is time-consuming, and tedious. Think of what’s to come.


    Whizz the fruit with half the sugar for about 45 seconds, then mix the whizzed up fruit and sugar with the rest of the sugar.


    Tie up the seeds in a muslin cloth or clean dish-washing cloth like Chux.


    Put the lot into an open bowl which can go into the microwave, and start cooking. Set the machine on high and cook the pants out of the fruit. My machine is cheap and nasty (500 watts) and it takes about 50 minutes for this much fruit to reach a nice jammy firmness. When I first made it, I got distracted, of course, and the fruit cooked about 20 minutes longer than it needed. The result was a most pleasant surprise. The eventual marmalade was about as thick as paste, but as spreadable as butter, with a delicious sweet and sour flavour. I liked it better than the result I was aiming for, but please yourself. Cooking jam like this in a microwave is a breeze: no stirring, no dreadful observation, minimal risk of burning. The only negative for the ultra fastidious is that the final product does not shine like those marmalades that are continually watched for any impurities rising to the top. I am prepared to cop that: relaxation is far more important than a shiny jam.