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Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Kumquat Sweet for Your Thoughts (Κούμκουατ Γλυκό)

A Kumquat Sweet for Your Thoughts – Click to Enlarge

I was first introduced to this exotic Greek confection in the late ‘90s. One of my friends had gone to Greece for the summer and had returned with several packages of individually wrapped kumquat sweets, an exclusive specialty of the Ionian island of Corfu (Kerkyra). Though I was already familiar with Corfiote (i.e. of Corfu) kumquat liqueur, I had never tried the glacé fruit until my friend, Kyriakos, generously shared some of his supply with me. Needless to say, I was immediately hooked. The subtle orange citrus bitterness of the fruit’s tender though slightly chewy translucent flesh was totally suffused with the sweetness of its sugar syrup and was simply irresistible.

Interestingly enough, not long after that first sampling, I remember learning that upon completion of the filming on location in Greece for the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only” (1981), Roger Moore left Greece with several suitcases stuffed full of Corfiote kumquat sweets. It seems 007 had a thing for this truly rare confection as well! From that moment, I was determined to obtain and build up my own cache of the much sought after delicacy on any subsequent trips to Greece. Alas, this was easier thought than done…

Although one can find the Corfiote kumquat liqueur easily enough in traditional specialty shops pretty well throughout mainland Greece, the kumquat sweet is an altogether different proposition. It would not be an understatement to say that on several trips to Greece, I have literally scoured traditional delicacy shops throughout the country, looking for the confection but without success. About the only place I have not been to look for it is on the island of Corfu itself! So, I have resolved that on my next trip to the fatherland I will make every effort to visit the island and stock up on this hard to get goodie.

Fresh Kumquats - Click to Enlarge Image

The kumquat was brought to Corfu from the Far East and there are two different versions concerning its introduction to the Greek island (though they are not necessarily mutually exclusive). The first attributes the transplantation of the tree to Corfu from Japan in the years 1846 - 1847 as part of British colonial commercial efforts on the island. For, as a result of the Treaty of Paris (1815), the Ionian Islands were subsumed as a protectorate of the United Kingdom. The second anecdote ascribes the arrival of the kumquat to a Greek born British colonial by the name of Sidney Merlin. Mr. Merlin was a gold medalist for Great Britain in Shooting at the Athens 1906 Olympic Games (Did you know Athens has hosted three Olympic Games?). He was also an avid amateur botanist and extensive traveler with ties to diplomatic circles, and according to this version of events, it was he who reportedly brought the tree back with him from Japan in 1924. Today, the kumquat orchards of the Merlin Estate on Corfu are a popular tourist sight. Whichever version is correct, Corfu has since remained as the only place the kumquat is extensively cultivated in Europe, and its products have been registered as P.D.O. by the European Union.

One interesting Corfiote tradition that has developed along with the cultivation of the kumquat relates to the kumquat liqueur I mentioned above. When a baby is born to a Corfiote couple, a bottle of kumquat liqueur is procured (usually as a gift) and then set aside until the child’s wedding day. On the day of the wedding, the kumquat liqueur is ceremoniously opened and shared about for a toast to the sweet-bitter future of the newly married couple.

I was lucky enough to find some kumquats at a local supermarket last week. Admittedly, these kumquats were from South Africa and not Corfu, but I resolved to try and re-create the Corfiote kumquat sweet with them anyway. As I could not find any ready recipes for it, I thought I would simply create my own. Keep in mind that the creation of this sweet is a process that takes several days, so patience is the primary ingredient in this recipe.

Drying the kumquats - Click to Enlarge Image


1 lb. (approx. 40-45 fruits) of fresh kumquats
4 cups of sugar
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

  1. Wash kumquats well and remove the small stalk-ends.
  2. Using a poultry needle, pierce each fruit through completely, top to bottom (i.e. lengthwise) several times.
  3. In a saucepan, bring 1 quart (1 litre) of water to a rolling boil then add the kumquats and boil them for 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the kumquats, add fresh water to the saucepan and once more bring it to a boil then add the kumquats and boil them for another 10 minutes. Then, remove the kumquats and put them in a bowl with cold water. Leave the kumquats to soak in the water for 24 hours and make sure to change the water several times.
  4. After this soaking, remove the kumquats from the water; spread them out on a flat towel-covered surface (preferably in a sunny spot) and leave to dry for 24 hours. They should pucker slightly when their moisture has sufficiently evaporated.
  5. For the syrup, add 2 cups of water and the 4 cups of sugar, along with the lemon juice and vanilla extract to a saucepan and stirring it occasionally bring to a rolling boil for several minutes. Add the kumquats and boil them in the syrup for 5 minutes. They will noticeably expand which will serve to suck the syrup into the fruit via the piercings, which will ensure a thorough saturation by the syrup. After the 5 minutes remove the saucepan from the heat and set aside to cool. Leave the kumquats in the syrup to soak overnight.
  6. After the overnight syrup bath, place the saucepan on a high heat and bring the contents to a rolling boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and leave to cool. Using a spoon, skim off any surface bubbles that will form on top of the syrup. Repeat this boiling process (likely 2 more times) until the syrup has reduced to a point where the kumquats are barely covered by the concentrated syrup. Then, leave to half cool and bottle in a glass preserve jar for storage. They should keep for a very long time.

Bottled kumquat sweet - Click to Enlarge Image

You can use the kumquat sweet as a topping for ice cream, yogurt, or whatever else takes your fancy. Or, you can simply eat it on its own as a spoon sweet chased down with a glass of cold water as the Greeks are wont to do…

Kali Orexi! (Bon Appetit)

Sam Sotiropoulos

Greek Gourmand™

Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


Peter M said...

Sam, nice background on the glyko and cool tidbit about Roger Moore!

Greece has started to sprout specialty shops where premium and regional goods are on offer...for a premium.

The best route is to make them, as you have at home...with TLC!

Laurie Constantino said...

Great recipe Sam, and good job experimenting to make your own when it isn't readily avialble!

debbyd said...

beautiful. love the jar too. what a lovely gift that make

Anonymous said...

Η ποικιλία που χρησιμοποιήσατε δεν είχε κουκούτσια; Το έφτιαξα μια φορά αλλά δεν είχα κατορθώσει να βγάλω τα κουκούτσια.Εσείς τι κάνατε;

Sam Sotiropoulos said...

Peter - As I mentioned in the post, I tried many such specialty shops last summer and not a one had the kumquat sweet. In fact, many of the shop owners had not even heard of it!

Laurie - Necessity is the Mother of Invention. :)

DebbyD - The jar is a pretty common style found in specialty shops all over Greece. It pretty much always contains such sweets, in fact, the one in the photo was originally full of a pistachio spoon sweet we picked up in Greece last summer.

VitaK - [QUESTION in English translation: "Does the variety you used have seeds? I made it once but was unable to remove the seeds. What did you do?"]

ANSWER: All kumquats have seeds, including the ones I used. If you are lucky, you can remove some of the seeds when piercing the fruits as I direct in the post, they simply get pushed right out by the poultry needle. Aside from that, if the seeds are immature, they basically soften with the rest of the fruit and go down largely unnoticed. But, without question, each fruit will likely retain a seed or two and that is how it is... even the traditional sweets from Corfu contain seeds.

Peter G said...

This is beautifully done Sam. And we get a history lesson along with the recipe! To be honest I'm not really familiar with the kumquat but I like the sund of its taste and texture. Cheers!

Lore said...

It was nice to read about kumquat's history and the wonderful Greek tradition!
One of my friends regularly spends his summer holiday on the island of Corfu. I will ask him to bring some kumquats when he gets back this summer as I cannot find them here.
I'm sure this kumquat sweet makes great food for thought.

David Hall said...

Great stuff Sam, kumquat sweets, what an invention!


Princess Q said...

That looks sooo delicious, and not too hard too. Am going to try it! Thanks a lot for the recipe and the story!

Marianna said...

Oh I brought back some of these from my trip in Greece, they had almonds stuffed in them though!

James Carter said...

Hey Sam, it's James. I have only a small experience with kumquats, and have really only seen the trees over the last few years while visiting Louisiana. But, what we have everywhere around here in Houston are loquats! They are somewhat similar while very different as well. Instead of the citrus like peal they have more of a fuzzy peachy skin. There are trees in almost every yard around. My younger brother lives miles away from me but has one in his back yard as well. They just grow everywhere. Last year, well the truth is I made a huge mess making a jelly. I was experimenting and it turned out "all right". I had a really good time though, I love trying new things. I did use them successfully in a salsa. I was glad to see your recipe and story on the kumquats. The pictures are amazing! (so mouth watering) Well, I have a feeling that this can be adapted for our abundant loquats. They are out there, dangling in gorgeous yellow clusters by the hundreds. I would love to send you some, but I don't think they travel well, they are very fragile and don't last long once picked. We can always try... I'd love to see what you might create though with our unique tasting, slightly floral, small delicate fruits. I saw a recipe for a loquat wine once.... Hmm? That might be interesting. Anyway, thank you for the wonderful kumquat sweets. I wonder if you could send me some!!

tsu said...

I live in Japan where they also make a 'glace' Kumquat but also add salt to deepen the flavor. The recipe in 'Zen vegetarian cooking' just boils rather then dries them.
Yours look delicious. Thanks for the recipe

Anonymous said...

Thank you SO much for this recipe! I had several pints of locally grown Meiwa kumquats and am now enjoying these AMAZING spoon sweets with my homemade Greek yogurt!

barbara said...

Thanks so much for your kumquat recipe. I adore these little orange fruits, and we get a lot of them at farmers markets in Los Angeles.

And thanks for a wonderful blog.

Lick My Spoon said...

I recently bought a kumquat tree for Chinese New Year (it is supposed to bring good luck for the new year) -- thanks for this recipe! I was just wondering to myself what to do with all the fruit :)

shavedicesundays said...

Gosh my mom just gave me a huge bag of kumquats tonight and I was going to make my usual marmalade with them but now I'm thinking otherwise. I like that jar you've got too.

Lori said...

they look so good!