As much as I love single estate teas and seem to stick to drinking teas from a single region, sometimes it’s refreshing to peruse my overflowing tea cabinet and randomly select two different loose leaf teas for blending à la minute. I have done just that recently to great effect. I started the adventure by combining equal parts by weight of a robust malty Assam with a second flush Darjeeling. What I wound up with was by turns comforting, complex, mellow and distinctive with a bit of a floral undertone. But I wasn’t done yet with the tinkering. Finding the first of this season’s fresh kumquats at the local farmers’ market led me down a flavoring path that made the drinking even more sublime. It’s interesting to note that kumquats are one of the few citrus fruits whose skin is thin, sweet and pulpy and interior flesh sour and acidic. Here’s how I took advantage of both.
First I washed the kumquats. Then, I sliced them in paper-thin rings from top to bottom, removing any readily apparent seeds. Then I cooked them slowly over low heat in a heavy saucepan with a bit of sugar and enough water to keep the fruit from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Unlike most citrus fruits, it’s not necessary to blanch the fruits in water before cooking them in sugar syrup, particularly if the fruit is sliced thinly. The sugar will penetrate the fruit and the fruit will become tender without the previous cooking. (You can taste as you go and add more sugar if you see fit.) Allow the fruit to become tender, stirring gently to avoid any burning. Cool and store in well washed jam jar – around our home, it’s not necessary to process this conserve in a hot water bath for longer keeping. Simply store it in the refrigerator. (If your appetite for jams, jellies and conserves is equal to mine, this seasonal specialty won’t hang around for long.) Now here’s the tea connection:
Interestingly, Robert Fortune, the 19th century Scottish traveler and plant collector who brought Chinese tea plants to India, also introduced kumquats from China to the West (known in Han China as far back as the 12th century AD and three centuries before in the Fertile Crescent). So perhaps it’s fitting to combine two of Fortune’s botanical discoveries in one cup.
Uniting properly brewed Darjeeling with Assam in a cup with the addition of a generous dollop of the easily–made spoon sweet not only rounds out the flavors of the tea -adding bright citrus notes to the beverage – but provides a delicious spoonful to enjoy when reaching the bottom of the cup. Who said that you couldn’t have your fruit and drink it too? Here’s to you – from one Robert to another.
MAIN: Image of kumquat preserve courtesy of the author.