Winter Sun and Kumquat Chutney

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Mid winter in BA and now it’s really cold, down to 2 degrees this morning. However, I’m lucky enough to own my own microclimate, my ample Andalusian terrace where if the sun is shining you have to strip off your jumper by midday regardless of the surrounding chill. And the sun has shone consistently for the last few days with a kind of alpine glory and while this has been deceiving and has led to me venturing out on the street seriously underdressed on occasions, I am still getting in a few pleasant hours of work a day basking in its rays. That is if you consider lounging with a coffee, book and cigarette to be work, which as an aspiring writer I obviously do.

I share my terrace with my plants and other than those that are simply designed to give shade and privacy during the summer, all the rest are useful by which I mean edible. Lemons, limes and kumquats, lots of herbs and a wide array of chilli plants which I nurtured from seed and which I am hoping will find conditions here conducive enough to become perennial. I have faith as even in the depths of winter the Thai ones are still producing a fresh crop every two weeks.

Given that all these plants are in their first season and some of the larger ones suffered from my amateur attempts at transplantation, I had low expectations for the yields especially from the trees. The lemons failed, producing lots of pretty flowers that didn’t set. The lime did better, though the fruit was not your UK supermarket lime. It turned out less acidic, incredibly fragrant, more orangey…nice to cook with and I have preserved the rest in a salt brine (and just fried some up with some red mullet fillets (Trilla for my Argentine friends).

The Kumquats however have gone ballistic, weighing down their spindly trunked tree with kilos of fruit. Unlike chillies they all ripen together. And while La Doctora has eaten one tree’s worth that leaves the problem of what to do with the other? I’m not the kind of guy to let them rot on the vine!

Neither do I see myself as your Martha Stewart jam-making kind of person. You read about this stuff and it all seems complicated and precise and requires buying expensive jars that cost more than the jam and there is risk of mould and bacteria and unforeseen poisoning of guests etc. I’m not yet convinced. But maybe chutney? Yes, chutney is something I miss here. Sweet, sour spicy flavours to go with cheeses or cold meats. Not part of the national food dictionary. Impossible to buy. Complicated to make?

It turns out that there is nothing simpler and that possibly there is nothing more delicious than kumquats to make it with (obviously my home grown are superior to any you can buy!). My method of cooking something new is to read 10 recipes on the internet, forget about them for an hour and then go shopping with an idea of the end flavour in mind and an eye out for what looks tasty in the greengrocer. I made an Indian spiced chutney, but you could easily go more herbal (rosemary would work in large amounts) or more christmas pudding (cinnamon, cloves, brandy?). Anyway, as much as anything as an aide memoire for myself I will give you my newly invented recipe, which according to La Doctora couldn’t have been better.

For about half a kilo of kumquats (quinotos here):

Bung 2 finely chopped red onions in your saucepan with a big thumb of finely cooked ginger and cook gently in olive oil. Then add chillis of your choice, the big green jalapenos giving a grassier flavour and some little red bird’s eye for a bit of underlying heat.

After a few minutes add mustard seeds, ground cumin, black pepper, turmeric, garam masala, (about half to a teaspoon of each) and then a teaspoon of cinnamon. Integrate, taste!! And if that seems like the base taste (given that it will become much milder by the end of the process) then add your kumquats. I only halved them as you are going to cook them hard so it’s nice to preserve a bit of shape and colour even though they will end up very soft. Then add a hundred or two grams of raisins.

Once the kumquats have softened a bit and given out their juices add two or three big spoons of sugar and at least half a cup of vinegar ( I used cheap apple vinegar and a dash of sweet chinese). Cook (slow or hard depending on how much stirring you want to do) until everything is nice and soft but the kumquats still retain texture and the liquid has evaporated. Cool, leave a day and eat!

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If this doesn’t go with a good ripe goats cheese I don’t know what does! And as every verduleria is currently selling quinotos in small sacks and they are cheap as chips you have no excuse.

Let’s join the Martha Stewart jam making set. After all she’s out of prison now. We wont need domestic goddess tats!

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