(Field Trip Fridays capture interesting, fun, food-related and/or fishing adventures that I like to share with you!)
The late comedian George Carlin did a stand up routine in the early ’80s called “Fussy Eater” and if you’ve never seen it, you should, because it’s pretty funny (you can find it on YouTube). Apparently he was a picky eater as a child, much to the chagrin of his family, and in the routine he shared funny observations about what he considered some of the more terrible-sounding food words like yogurt, succotash and head cheese. He also talked about words that were humorous, like guacamole and garbanzo and “the funniest food of all time: kumquats.” Personally, I’m not sure those cute little kumquats are the ‘funniest’ of all time, but I will concede that they’re at least amusing!
Today’s Field Trip Friday is all about my recent visit to the annual Kumquat Grower’s Cooperative event in St. Joseph, Florida (i.e., Dade City). I had never even heard of it until my blogger friend Robin at AuthenticFlorida.com wrote about it. She noted that it was a hidden gem and that anyone planning to attend the annual Kumquat Festival in late January should build in time for this smaller event prior to the big Festival. I couldn’t attend the Festival this year, but took a road trip just for this Grower’s event and I’m so glad I did — it was a great way to learn more about the fruit, purchase some tasty treats, spend a day in the sunshine, and talk to the folks who grow and harvest this Florida treasure.
Did you know that central Pasco County (where the tiny town of St. Joseph is located) is known as the “kumquat capital of the world”? Yup – it’s the world’s leading producer and shipper of kumquats. Right in my own backyard! These folks take their kumquats seriously, but they also have a lot of fun. When I arrived, I was greeted by a lady wearing kumquat earrings and a kumquat apron, giving out kumquat samples. She seemed to know everything there is to know about kumquats (and that’s a lot). The processing plant was offering tours, vendors were showcasing ways to incorporate kumquats into recipes, the gift shop was bustling, grove tours queued up a long line and seasoned cooks were serving up tasty concoctions. As I wandered around it was like I had gone back in time and had found a piece of vintage Florida. I really didn’t know where to start, but decided to check out the processing plant first. It was the most charming plant I’ve ever seen, but I guess you really don’t need a huge operation when your product is only about one inch big! They’ve been processing these little guys since 1912, and they’ve got the process down. Here’s one of the folks giving the kumquats a bath in a bleach solution:
When it comes to finding the best food, they say you should gravitate to either the longest line of people, or the biggest gathering of tractor trailer trucks at rest stops. . .so, after my informative grove tour I got into the longest line for Joe’s Hot Dogs. They were serving them with the grove’s famous kumquat chutney but, unfortunately, I don’t have even one picture of that delicious dog with the miraculous sauce because I couldn’t bear to set the dog down in order to get the camera. . .it was so yummy. Thanks Joe!
Here’s one of my favorite pics of the day. The folks at Kumquat Growers still pick these tasty little fruits the old fashioned way.
And here are just a few things I learned about kumquats:
- They’re relatives of the citrus family.
- They have a thin, sweet peel and tart pulp, offering a refreshing sweet/tart flavor combo.
- They’re packed with potassium, as well as, vitamins A and C.
- You can eat the whole fruit! Just roll them between your thumb and forefinger to release juices and essential oils for best flavor (and remove seeds, if you don’t want those).
- Most of the kumquats in the U.S. are grown in Dade City — imagine that!
- The most popular type of kumquat in Florida is the Nagami (you’ve probably seen them in supermarkets), available November to March.
- Kumquat Growers have been growing/packing these little beauties since 1912, and the company is still run by the Gude family. How great is that?!?
- They can be used in savory or sweet dishes, in sauces/glazes, jams, etc. They even make pretty table decorations. I sometimes stuff them in a vase with a batch of pretty flowers. I’ve also been known to use them as place card holders for dinner parties — so colorful and pretty.
I left the event armed with lots of new knowledge about kumquats, a bunch of kumquats products and a full belly. On the way home I stopped along the road to take pictures of these beautiful grazing cattle. Aren’t they sweet? This is definitely horse and cattle country and the area just begs for a road trip if you like to explore Florida.
Please consider attending the Kumquat Grower’s event next year. It’s a must-see if you’re in Florida and looking for something fun to do. And maybe even consider trying kumquats in recipes! Here are just a few ideas:
In a Salad: remove seeds, slice thinly and toss with fresh greens, juicy strawberries/blueberries, toasted nuts and a sweet/light dressing. Or maybe toss into a tasty slaw for Fish Tacos.
Pureed: after removing seeds/stems, toss in a food processor and puree to a fine pulp. Keep in the fridge or freeze in ice cube trays for later use. Makes a yummy addition to Kumquat-Date Bread or Roast Pork.
Candied: combine seeded/sliced kumquats with water and sugar and cook for about 15 minutes. Remove from liquid and enjoy as a snack, or atop Dark Chocolate Bark.
Dried: remove peels from the fruit and bake in a low oven for about 20 minutes until they’re dry. When cool, mince and toss into Granola Bars.