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The Rodney Dangerfield of Citrus – Calamondin

By Kelley Lavin.

Okay, I admit it, I turned my husband into an addict. His drug of choice, the Orange-Apricot Marmalade I brought home from Sarabeth’s Kitchen in Florida’s Conch Republic of Key West. It started innocently with a one-jar-a-week habit but it quickly grew into two, then three jars. He was eating it on everything – muffins, waffles, Wheat-Thins. Eventually he just stuck his finger in the jar, pulling it out fully loaded to lick.

Supplying his habit became too much. I had to learn how to make a marmalade that could rival Sarabeth’s. This was intimidating since (one) I had never made marmalade and (two) hers is described as “legendary” and
“in a class by itself.” How could a novice compete with a marmalade that had won the “Domestic Fine Food Award” at the annual International Fancy Food Show?

Then I found my own “domestic fine food” right outside my front door. The very fruit I had thought for years was simply ornamental and a nuisance (I admit I referred to it as the Rodney Dangerfield of citrus because it gets no respect) turned out to be the best of all possible citrus to make marmalade – calamondin. Although this fruit is stuck with a name that no one ever seems to remember, the calamondin’s provocative taste is hard to forget. Even more intriguing, is its story and uses.

Thought to be native to China, the calamondin came to Florida in 1899. Since the 1960s, thousands of potted calamondins have been shipped as novelty house plants from Florida to all parts of the U.S. (Remember the ad, “You Can Grow Your Own Miniature Florida Orange Tree?”) My trees, however, are part of the original orchards planted on the Florida Gulf Coast estate of Mrs. Potter Palmer, an important figure in both Chicago and Sarasota’s history. These mature calamondin trees bear hundreds of slightly larger- than-a-golf-ball-sized fruits each every year. Often mistaken for a clementine or a tangerine, the calamondin is distinguished by its copious yield of seeds and its sweet-tart taste.

In Florida’s past calamondins were a staple ingredient when serving iced tea, seafood and meat dishes. Then limes took over. The calamondin, seeded and chopped, is remarkable as a main ingredient in chutneys and sauces. In a week that both my husband and I won’t soon forget, I juiced stubborn calamondins for a stir-fry sauce, pureed them to make a filling and a glaze for pound cake, combined their peel, juice and fruit with cranberries, ginger, jalapeños and other ingredients in a fresh salsa served over a calamondinmarinated flank steak. I topped off my calamondin tribute week with possibly the most refreshing sorbet I’ve ever attempted. I did this all before I tackled the marmalade which was the impetus for this whole culinary adventure.

Recipes for calamondin marmalade are hard to find. Actually any recipe for calamondin is hard to locate. However, Joy of Cooking came through with clear and simple directions on how to make marmalade and also how to can it in jars, if you plan to keep this marmalade around for awhile, which is obviously that’s not the case in my house. You can substitute tangerines, grapefruits, or as the Brits do, Seville oranges. A friend, inspired by my calamondin accomplishment, made kumquat marmalade, a spread she claims is delicious yet so tedious to make she won’t be serving it again soon.

Here’s my Calamondin Marmalade recipe with inspiration from several cookbooks and internet sources. Note this recipe does not call for pectin as the calamondin peels provide enough naturally to create a gel. This recipe makes four cups.

2 pounds calamondins, cut into 4 wedges (wash all fruit well before cutting)
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
5 cups water
3 ½ cups sugar

Cut calamondins and lemon wedges crosswise into ¼ inch thick slices. You can cut out many of the seeds by positioning the calamondins on their sides to expose the fruit segment. Discard seeds from fruit. Put fruit and any juice left on a cutting board into large bowl. Add 5 cups of water, or more if needed, to cover fruit. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let stand at room temperature 1 day.

Pour fruit mixture into heavy large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until rind is very tender about 1 hour 15 minutes. Stir occasionally, spooning out any seeds that may appear. Remove from heat. Add sugar; stir until sugar dissolves. Boil gently until mixture is 210°F on a candy or meat thermometer, stirring occasionally about 1 hour 20 minutes. (Make sure to check temperature frequently as it nears 210° – it can happen quickly as it crosses over 200+°). Let cool then ladle into clean sterilized jars and screw on two-piece lids. Process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

(If you’d like more calamondin recipes, contact me at: Kelley@flavorsandmore.com)

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Photo by Rod Millington

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