The best thing about returning home from a Greek summer? It has to be spending time with family and friends that we missed while we were away and drinking in the winter sunshine in dad's beautiful garden.
While we had been basking in the Greek summer sun, dad's citrus was revelling in near perfect growing conditions in a little corner of inner west Sydney. Dad's citrus was not alone, with many Australian farmers reporting it had been an amazing year for all kinds of citrus fruits.
The kumquat tree in dad's garden was quiet simply heaving with little orange gems. Talk about a Christmas in July! The kumquat tree came with the best kind of Christmas decorations - edible fruit. Well, 'edible' fruit that requires a little tender loving care. You certainly would not want to be eating these juicy but bitter little guys fresh straight from the tree.
That is where Ma's sage advice came to the fore. The kumquat is such an Ionian kind of fruit. Commonly made into a spoon sweet, the kumquat is to Corfu what the kitron is to Naxos. Perhaps it was the influence of long ago anglo rule in Corfu, but this little humble fruit is also known on the island for its marmalade making capacity, as well as the more traditional style of spoon sweet. Indeed, there are quiet a few recipes circulating in the Ionian islands for kumquat marmalade. While Ma fossicked through her mental recipe archives, dad encouraged me to experiment. "There are just so many this year" he said, "have a try and then come back and get another bucketful." He said this while telling me about his own mother and the women of her generation, who had store cupboards full of various homemade preserves to get their families through long winters and lean times. "Now they were cooks!" he said.
Perhaps it was my holiday induced state of zen, but I was quiet content working through quartering a few kilos of kumquats. This marmalade takes a little preparation time, but its definitely worth the effort. It's best slathered on some good country style brown bread and can become an indulgent brunch with a good dollop of ricotta or homemade fresh mizithra. The addition of the brandy is also a nice warming touch for cold winter mornings.
Kumquat and Metaxa Marmalade (κουμ κουάτ και Μεταξά μαρμελάδα)
1kg white granulated sugar
1 tbsp Metaxa Brandy
Quarter each kumquat, then using a sieve over a bowl, squeeze out the juice and seeds. Discard the pips and keep the juice and the quartered fruits.
Place the kumquats and their juice in a heavy-bottomed or jam making pan, and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for one to 1 and a half hours (basically until the fruit is very soft).
Next, add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Bring the mixture back to the boil, and boil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming any foam that rises to the surface, until the marmalade reaches setting point.
To test the setting point, place one teaspoon of the mixture on a saucer and cool in the freezer for a few minutes. If set, the marmalade will wrinkle up when touched. Stir in the Metaxa brandy and then distribute the marmalade carefully into warm, sterilised jars and seal.