I love kumquats.
I love the word of the thing. Kum-quat. So much fun to say. During the three months of my student teaching — oh so many years ago now; those 14-year-olds are now 30 years old! — I taught a lesson on the sounds of words, as a warm-up to high-school poetry writing. (Honestly, they weren’t as maudlin as you might have expected.) We worked on assonance — wavy and sleigh — and consonance — crack and cacophony — and how to truly listen. Feeling first, then literal meaning afterwards.
The first day I introduced this way of being, I stood in front of my new class and said, “Kumquat!” They looked at me as though I had said something dirty. “Kumquat,” I said. “Isn’t that a great word?”
Turns out that not one kid in that class had ever eaten a kumquat, or even seen one. They thought I was speaking moon man language. When I told them about these adorable little citrus fruits, the only ones that allow you to eat their skins, they were supercharged with energy. Every day, one of them shouted out, at some inopportune moment, “Kumquat, Ms. James!” I seem to remember a day in which the entire class of 28 14-year-olds began chanting “kumquat. kumquat. kumquat.” I laughed, every day, with them.
On the last day of classes, at the end of the school year, they presented me with cards and flowers. The class that so loved our wordplay dance with citrus nominated the shyest kid to step forward. He made a little speehttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifch about how much they had loved being in my class. And then he pulled his hand from behind his back and presented me with….a bag of kumquats.
They have never tasted that sweet again.
Besides the memories, and the forceful resonance of the sound of the word, I also love the thing itself. I mean, look at the kumquat. Squat, green flaring into orange, a little nipple on top, rippled and flecked skin this fruit has nothing to offer but itself.
The other day, when the Chef and I walked into the restaurant for the afternoon’s work, we were delighted to see that the produce delivery had already arrived. Among the bags of spinach and handfuls of fresh herbs, I spotted a box with a flare of orange peeking up from its depths. Kumquats.
He grinned and went into the kitchen. Half an hour later, this kumquat chutney arrived. He planned to serve it that night with roast chicken. Just a spoonful of it brought all these memories rushing back.
He insists that it’s more a marmalade than a chutney. But I can’t help it, I like the sound of chutney better. Kumquat chutney. Now there’s a sound I love.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 cups kumquats
Bring the sugar and water to a boil, forming a simple syrup. The moment they boil, put in the kumquats and reduce the heat to low, allowing the kumquats to simmer. When they are glistening, and everything has thickened — probably about twenty minutes — you have kumquat chutney. (Or marmalade. But really, say kumquat chutney. Fun!)