(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 (you can find it on YouTube). Apparently he was a picky eater as a child, much to the chagrin of his family. In his routine he shares funny observations about what he considered some of the more terrible-sounding food words like yogurt, succotash and head cheese. He also talks about humorous words like guacamole and garbanzo and “the funniest food of all time: kumquats.” Personally, I’m not sure cute little kumquats are the ‘funniest’ of all time, but I will concede they’re at least amusing!
Today’s Field Trip is 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 said that it was a hidden gem and that anyone planning to attend the Kumquat Festival in late January should build in time for this smaller event prior to the big event. I couldn’t attend the Festival this year, but took a road trip for this Grower’s event and I’m glad I did — it was a great way to learn more about the fruit, purchase tasty treats, spend a day in the sunshine, and talk to folks who grow/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 offered tours, vendors showcased ways to incorporate kumquats into recipes, the gift shop was bustling, grove tours queued up a long line and seasoned cooks served tasty concoctions. As I wandered around it was like I had gone back in time and 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 have got the process down. Here’s one of the folks giving the kumquats a bath in a bleach solution:
As I wandered I was getting pretty hungry then I remembered that old adage about looking for the longest line (or the most amount of tractor trailers on the roadside) to determine who had the best food. So, after my grove tour I got into the longest line for Joe’s Hot Dogs. In that line, I learned that they were serving steamed dogs with the grove’s famous kumquat chutney. . .
When my turn finally came I quickly sank my teeth into that dog. Unfortunately, I don’t have one picture of the delicious dog with the miraculous sauce because I couldn’t bear to set it down long enough to get the camera. . . 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 a few things I learned about kumquats:
- They’re relatives of the citrus family.
- They have a thin/sweet peel with tart pulp.
- 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 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 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 — colorful and pretty.
I left the event armed with knowledge about kumquats, a bunch of kumquat 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 looking for something fun to do. And maybe consider trying kumquats in recipes! Here are just a few:
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.