Strolling through Trader Joe’s I came upon a fruit I had never seen before and it instantly captured my interest. Mandarinquats are a cross between a mandarin orange and a kumquat. I adore kumquats and dropped the little container of mandarinquats in my basket before I could even flinch at the $4.99 price.
Like a kumquat, mandarinquats have a thin sweet peel and a bright tart flesh. They have a graceful teardrop shape and the size seems like a perfect compromise between the two. The color is influenced more by the bright orange hues of a mandarin, but the flavor plays sweet against tart in the same delicious way a kumquats does. I quickly determined that unlike kumquats the seeds are not edible and like a mandarin, there are a lot of seeds.
Mandarinquats are grown in southern California and harvested from January to early March. Sadly on my last trip to TJs I do believe I snatched up the very last container of my newest culinary fascination, so now I will wait with great anticipation for next January when the mandarinquats return. In the mean time, I am happy to see a steady supply of kumquats still available.
When I first saw the mandarinquats I instantly thought of marmalade, which is a bit odd because I don’t really care for marmalade. I find it too bitter. Kumquats, however, don’t have a bitter peel so I thought mandarinquats could make perfect marmalade. In addition to the novel fruit, I was excited about the idea of making a small batch of marmalade to be eaten right away rather than canned. Canning isn’t so difficult, but inevitably I don’t have enough jars or lids which completely derails a spontaneous jam-session. The idea of whipping up a fresh batch of jam that is small enough to consume in a few weeks had never occurred to me.
After reviewing a pile of marmalade recipes I settled on a plan that turned into a saga paralleling the story of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. I had no idea what the pectin level would be, so to be on the safe side I collected all the seeds and cut them open and put them in a tea strainer to cook with the rind. It turns out mandarinquats have a very high pectin level. So high that when the marmalade cooled I couldn’t even pierce it with a fork! The second batch included only six seeds. Better, though it didn’t so much as spread, but rather crumble. The third batch had no added seeds and a reduced cooking time, wouldn’t you know, it was mandarinquat soup. The forth batch was a charm, with no added seeds, but using the cooking time for the earlier batches it came out perfectly. I wish the mandarinquat season weren’t over already, but you can pencil this activity in on your calendar for January 2010!
Makes about 21/2 cups
8 oz. mandarinquats
3 cups water
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. cardamom, ground
Have a 2 or 3 qt. sauce pan ready and set a mesh strainer over a bowl.
Wash the mandarinquats by scrubbing the rind well. Slice each piece of fruit in half and squeeze the juice and seeds into the strainer set over a bowl to catch the juice. By squeezing the fruit before slicing it, the juice will end up in the marmalade and not all over the cutting board.
Cut each half-rind in half again and then slice into very thin strips. Slice up the inner membrane that separates the fruit sections right along with the rind. Place the sliced rind in the sauce pan.
Add the collected juice to the sauce pan along with 3 cups of cold water.
Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 35 minutes.
Place a small saucer in the refrigerator to chill. It will be helpful when testing the marmalade to determine if it is set.
After the rind has simmered for 35 minutes, add the 2 cups of sugar and stir to dissolve. Once the sugar is dissolved, bring the mixture to a full boil and boil for 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that develops on the surface.
Remove the marmalade from the heat and drop a small amount on the chilled saucer. Let it sit for 30-60 seconds and then gently push on the side of the dollop, if the surface wrinkles, the marmalade has set to a nice consistency. If it is still runny, continue to boil an additional 5 minutes and recheck.
Once set, remove the marmalade from the heat and let cool for 2-3 minutes, then stir in the ground cardamom. Pour the marmalade into clean jars or a bowl and let cool to room temperature uncovered. Once cool, cover and store in the refrigerator.
If the marmalade is too set once completely cool, re-heat it in a sauce pan with some water (1/4 to 1/2 cup) to thin it out. Stir the marmalade to dissolve it in the water over a medium low heat and then bring to a boil for a minute. Cool and store in refrigerator.