Kumquats: Part I - Growers Association Open House
Bushnell, FL - Events of Friday, January 29, 2016
Kumquats are small citrus fruits that look somewhat like miniature oranges. They are native to southeast Asia and were brought to the Unites States in 1885. There are several species of kumquats, two of which are grown commercially in the United States. The most common variety is Nagami kumquats, which are oval shaped and about 1 to 2 inches long. The second variety, Meiwi kumquats, are about the same size, but they are round. One reason Meiwi Kumquats are less prevalent is because they are more difficult to grow.
Kumquats can be popped into your mouth whole and eaten skin and all or they can be mashed into a puree that is used in things like marmalade, jam, jelly, chutney, pie and cake. Kumquats are rich in vitamin C, potassium and fiber.
There are numerous kumquat growers situated in an area just to the west of Dade City, Florida, in a little crossroads called St. Joseph. In honor of St. Joseph being the self-proclaimed Kumquat Capital of the World, Dade City began holding a Kumquat Festival in 1996. The event is held the last Saturday in January.
We'll have more about the Kumquat Festival in our next post, but first we want to tell you about the open house held at the Kumquat Growers Association Packing House located a few miles west of Dade City on the Thursday and Friday before the festival. The open house features local entertainment, tours of the packing house, a talk on the history of kumquats and tours of a kumquat grove.
There were also kumquats available for sampling and for sale.
We were both anxious to try kumquats. The flesh and juice of a kumquat are sour, but the skin is sweet. That's the reason they are eaten skin and all. The photo below shows Margery's face just as she bit into the kumquat and tasted the first pop of sour juice.
Admittedly, Margery is exaggerating a bit for the camera, but there is a trick to eating a kumquats that took us a couple of tries to learn. Once you bite into the kumquat and taste that first squirt of sour juice, don't give up. Keep right on chewing to quickly get the sweeter skin to start blending with the sour flesh. The flavor of kumquats is somewhat like that of an orange with lemon overtones.
In the packing house, bins of kumquats from the grove are dumped onto a roller conveyor (to the right in the photo below) where most of the leaves and twigs are sorted out by dropping through the rollers. The kumquats float through a bath of bleach solution before being carried out the other end of the tank by another conveyor.
The kumquats are then sorted by people along the exit conveyor (in the center of the next photo). The top quality kumquats are sold by the bag or box. Kumquats that have blemishes are mashed into puree which is frozen and stored to be sent out to a processor as required. The processor makes the puree into marmalade, jam, jelly, pie filling, etc. Kumquats that are not suitable to be sold as is or to be made into puree are fed to cattle.
All the production on the day we were there was scheduled for delivery to the Kumquat Growers' booth to be sold at the Kumquat Festival the next day.
There was a presentation on the history of kumquats scheduled for 12:30 to be given by Roger Swain from the PBS TV show "Victory Garden." We saw Roger walk by, but for some reason neither the 12:30 or the 1:00 presentation went off as scheduled. It was starting to get late, and the line for the tram tour of the grove was growing so we decided to give up on the talk and get in line for the grove tour.
We had about a 20-minute wait before we got onto a tram and headed out into the grove.
There wasn't a lot to see in the grove other than rows and rows of trees loaded with kumquats. Kumquat trees usually only grow about 10 to 12 feet tall, so they are relatively easy to reach to harvest. Harvesting, which is done by hand, takes place from November through March. Out in the grove, the tram stopped and the general manager of the packing house gave a nice presentation on kumquats.
We learned kumquats, although they have seeds, are propagated by cuttings. The cuttings are always grafted onto rootstock of some other variety of citrus. The kumquats in the groves around St. Joseph are grafted onto a variety of tangerine.
We also learned kumquat growers, along with growers of other types of citrus in Florida, are currently experiencing serious problems with a disease that is relatively new to the United States known as citrus greening. The disease is caused by a bacteria that is carried by an insect. The disease isn't evident for a couple of years after it infects the trees, and once the trees are infected, they will die. There is no cure. Kumquat production three years ago at the packing house in St. Joseph was 18,500 bushels. This year, it is expected to be less than half that due to the disease.
They are spraying for the insects and replacing dying trees, but new trees take three years to begin producing kumquats. The problem with spraying is insecticide also kills beneficial insects like honey bees, which are required to pollinate the flowers to insure the subsequent production of fruit. The grove has bee hives, but they must be relocated to a safe area far away as soon as pollination of the trees is complete in summer so the trees can be sprayed for the harmful insects. We were reminded how difficult it is to make a living by farming.
By the time we got back from the grove tour, it was getting late. We never did get to hear the presentation on the history of kumquats, but the presentation by the general manager during the tour of the grove gave us all the information we were looking for.
The kumquat packing house is only a hop skip and a jump from Pancho's Villa in San Antonio, so that's where we headed to have lupper on our way back to Blueberry Hill.
Margery had a ground beef chimichanga, and Paul had a ground beef burrito. Both were yummy. Since we arrived before 3:00, our meals were at lunch prices, which are about $2 lower than the dinner prices. Lunch portions are supposedly a little smaller than dinners, but we always get plenty to eat.
With our bellies full, we headed back to Blueberry Hill to relax with an evening of TV. On Saturday, we headed back down to Dade City for the Kumquat Festival. We'll tell you about it in our next post.