Cumquats

02/09/2012

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A few years, and children, ago when summer was starting to get the best of me, instead of asking how he could help, my husband said, “So what is wrong with you?  Your Mom did it.” …Or something like that.  Now, there is no debate that a comment like that deserves having a few pillows thrown your way, but it is not all together an unfair question.   How did she do it?  It took me a little while to think about it, but it came down to one very obvious advantage she possessed: a yard.  At that time I was living in sunny California where parks were aplenty, but yards were just plain out of our budget and besides a plot of grass does not mean you have anything like what we had in “the yard.”  You see my mother did not actually have to live with us.  We left the house at 8 AM and only returned, forcibly, at dusk when we were promptly stripped to our undies, hosed down if needed, dipped in a bathtub, fed, and put to bed where we passed out in exhaustion immediately. 

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“The yard” was a MASSIVE, MASSIVE, MASSIVE (or so it seemed to me then) three acres of land consisting of both our yard and my Grandparent’s yard and bordered by a horse pasture.  The combined yards were fenced in giving us a completely safe kingdom in which to play.  We were for the most part a self-entertained group.  She left us alone and we left her alone; the only exception - temperatures over 100 and lightening.  I honestly do not even have any memories of eating lunch… my mom says otherwise, but either way it was absolute heaven and I have the knee and scalp scars to prove it!  
The yard consisted of several "regions"…

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On our side:
1.    The water hose.  (Very useful.) 
2.   The sandbox.  (Occasionally we reached the red clay, but never the China we were seeking.)
3.   The tree swing.  (Awesome, awesome!  Not to mention dangerously fun.)
4.    The oak tree. (Shade is an important commodity.)

On Grandpa and Grandma’s side:
1.    Papa’s work shed. (We loved to visit and he always made us feel welcomed.)
2.    The blackberry bushes.  (Heaven on earth.)
3.    Mayhaw territory.  (Scared us to death.  We were sure it was snake infested.)
4.    The pear tree, grape vines, laundry lines, compost, garden. (This area varied over the years).
5.    The patio.  (Proof our grandparents wanted us close!)
6.    The cumquat tree. (Today’s subject.)


Now you know why my mother never saw us.  Between the water hose, blackberries, and cumquats… who needed peanut butter and jelly?  The blackberries and cumquats are the tastes of my childhood.  I once cried at a 4-star restaurant over a blackberry topped cheesecake.  It had transported me “home” faster than actually going home could have.  Cumquats, however, are much harder to recreate that experience with because it turns out… my Grandpa has the only delicious cumquats in the world… at least that I have sampled so far.

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Cumquats are indigenous to south Asia and were brought west in 1846.  They prefer warmer climates; making the Texas Gulf Coast a perfect place for raising them.  Wikipedia tells me that cumquats symbolize good luck, are often given as gifts for the Lunar New Year, and are used in marmalades, liqueurs, salts, sugars, and teas.  We, however, ate them straight off the tree… unwashed, untouched, branch to mouth in 2 seconds or less.  Cumquats, incidentally, are not peeled.  The “unexposed” are always shocked by this.  What I want to know is how on earth they truly expect to peel something smaller than a strawberry?  Bizarre.  You pop the WHOLE thing in your mouth and eat the WHOLE thing just like you would an olive or cherry tomato.  

So many things happened around the cumquat tree.  It was a point of conversation and regrouping.  When you stood around the cumquat tree you spent a lot of time stretching to reach the bright orange ones or helping someone else reach them and you talked.  I have a distinct memory of one conversation with my cousin at the tree. She told me that moths would eat all of your clothes straight off of you till you were stitch-stark naked (or “starch” like I usually say).  Never mind the little skeptic in the back of my head or that I had never lost any clothing to moths before, the moths sent me screaming for the rest of the summer.  Great times.  

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Anyway, when I was home this past November the cumquat tree was producing.  Grandpa told me then that it is a fall fruit, but I am having a hard time getting my head around that one.  I do remember watching the fruit show up and waiting for it to ripen, but it sure seems like it was around much more of the year.  Like a little kid I stood around the tree… which, incidentally, has gotten so, so much smaller, along with the yard… and ate my fill.  Grandpa’s cumquats are much, much sweeter than the ones you can get in the store and you can truly eat them as fast as you can pick them.  I filled a plastic bag and then hand carried them through the airport back to New Jersey with me. 


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For weeks I rationed them out to myself.  I only let my children have a few.  They were mine. When the bag was almost gone, I had an epiphany.   It occurred to me that these fruits came from a fairly old tree and thus the seeds are probably good.  As in… I could grow my own tree from them!  I started saving the seeds.  Truthfully, I cannot grow anything to save my life, but I am hoping a local nursery will take up the challenge and grow me my very own cumquat tree.  My second son grew a cumquat tree in California, but these would be Grandpa’s cumquats!  I even have a sunroom off of my house that gets so warm it is dangerous… perfect for recreating a little bit of my carefree, hot, and humid Texas childhood.

And if you have a collection of "not-Grandpa's" cumquats sitting on your kitchen counter like I do... you can try this Cumquat Marmalade Recipe from AllRecipes.Com (click on the link).  Enjoy! 
Sorry... I do not have "my own" recipe for this.