Is there any fruit that feels more like a sunbeam, than a lemon? Limoncello, the happy yellow essence of perfect lemons, is one of those universally welcome gifts. It’s equally good as a digestif after long summer meals with friends, or as a cheer-me-up in […]
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If I haven’t shown you my competition trophies… well, let’s be honest, that’s highly unlikely. I’m quite obnoxious about it. My parents are very proud. The folks at work are usually happy to celebrate a win with a glass or two of homemade mead. Telling the postie was probably a step too far.
While pondering the trophies’ shiny fabulousness (again), I did find myself wondering why I love comps so much. After all, plenty of very good boozemakers never bother with them. Since I only make small batches, it’s not like there’s tons to go around. And then, isn’t it a bit… weird to be competitive when what you love most is the hands on physicality of the thing, the spices, the fruit, the honey… the absence of the outside world from the task at hand?
Not at all. Just like the impending deadline of a fun run can energise you to get off the couch on Sunday morning and enjoy the air in your lungs, a competition (if you approach it right) can be a great motivator to dive into your hobby rather than clean the bathroom.
Which, let’s be real, is only going to get gross again.
Comps are great! They give you so much…
1. The push to create
There’s nothing like a good deadline to really get the imagination running and the hands making.
Knowing that my wine guild’s annual show comes up every November, that the club will be expecting everyone to enter something… and that dammit I missed out on a medal for mead last year, is quite the kick in the pants to actually make that cherry metheglin that’s been kicking around in my head for months.
2. The feedback
While your friends are going to tell you everything you do is art, there’s the very real possibility that they a) love you and are telling you what you want to hear and b) like getting tipsy for free.
One of the hallmarks of a well run competition is useful feedback. Some judges spend decades training their palate and learning how to communicate what they experienced when they sipped your booze. Good judges can offer hints on what needs improving and what you did right, and give you a sense of what level you’re at right now.
In fact, lest you think comps are all about winning medals, it’s pretty common for experienced boozemakers to put something in a comp just to find out what the heck is wrong with it!
3. The community
Once the judges have made their decisions, there’s often a public tasting, where you can sip your booze again next to some that have done better, and some that have not fared as well. It’s an education in itself. You can even park yourself next to a table of drinks and just listen in as people taste and discuss.
And then, after the results are all posted and the score sheets come out, clubs often come together to share again, sheets and notes in hand. What did the judge mean by this feedback, we ask ourselves. Could this one have used a different yeast, a bit of sugar? How could this drink be improved, to score slightly higher?
Oh, yours scored better than mine? Yes I would like to taste some. And can I please have your recipe…
4. The shiny, shiny medals
Let’s not kid ourselves, trophies are awesome. I suck hard at sports: this is my chance.
And finally, there’s…
5. The completely awesome and often rather random prizes
Local businesses, especially the ones that sell to do-it-yourselfer types, often sponsor categories with vouchers or product. I once won five kilos of hickory chips. 10/10 would enter again.
Convinced? I do hope so.
If you’re thinking of giving it a go (yay!), it’s worth doing a little research to find out what the rules are, and if you’ll get plenty of feedback.
And finally, but really importantly….
Seriously, this is key:
Make your peace with the fact that humans, and volunteer humans at that, are judging on the day.
With all the good will in the world, some days there are not enough experienced judges in the room. Your feedback sheets might be very slim: on a very bad day, you’ll just get a score. Sometimes you will violently disagree with a judge, and complaining is not only useless, but rather unfair given that every human tastes things differently. I don’t agree with the judge who thought my hopped cider should be sweet, but neither of us is wrong. He or she was the one doing the volunteering on the day, so he or she gets to make the call for that comp. I’ll continue to make my cider dry.
If you enter competitions and can add to this list, or indeed if you’ve decided they’re not for you, I’d be very interested in your thoughts.
So, friends, I’ve been on a bit of a high. This Monday night, I found out that I won best cider, best mead, best novice, and best brewer (tied), at the Victorian amateur brewing championships (Vicbrew). That means that three of my creations are going […]
Are you one of those people? … who lives for the first stone fruit, for cherries around your ears and dark red plums and too many apricots (not that that’s a thing)? … who buys a peach from every shop all through summer: hoping, tasting, […]
‘A Kumquat for John Keats’, by Tony Harrison
…That decade or more past Keats’s span
makes me an older not a wiser man,
who knows that it’s too late for dying young,
but since youth leaves some sweetnesses unsung,
he’s granted days and kumquats to express
Man’s Being ripened by his Nothingness…
When you think of kumquats, what flavour springs to mind? Is your memory sweet, or sour?
When I was a kid, my parents cared for a potted kumquat tree (well, I thought it was a kumquat tree, more on that later). They loved this elegant little tree with its glossy leaves, mass of aromatic blossoms, and round, golden fruit that brightened our porch.
I used to try, again and again, to peel and eat the fruit, but it really wasn’t there for the eating.
Over the years, as I’ve lost the child’s obsession with sugar, I have come to really enjoy picking the odd golden kumquat. But they were never the best fruit, the kind you looked forward to. That space in my heart was reserved for cherries, peaches, and mangoes.
And then, on a wander through a market a few years ago, Mr. Small Batch and I spotted some quite different-looking fruit sitting in a small bowl at the counter, labelled ‘Fortunellas’. We bought them out of curiosity, and were immediately hooked.
They were crunchy, sweet-skinned, and when you bit into them they burst with a tiny bit of fragrant, sour juice, which soon disappeared and gave way to sweet flesh again.
In the years since, we’ve become addicted to these, and a devoted customer of specialist farmers The Kumquatery. Every year around late July, a couple of boxes of fresh Nagami kumquats arrives from South Australia, to be ripped open and devoured in short order.
Still, I remained a little confused as to why the round fruit I see left on trees around Australia, are so different to the ones that I get in the post. Sometimes the foraged fruit is good, sometimes bad: kumquats have felt like a bit of a lottery.
Luckily for me farmers are a generous bunch, and Patria at The Kumquatery was happy to walk me through what makes a kumquat, a kumquat, and what to do with a lot of kumquats when you have them!
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your farm?
‘We have a five acre property in Renmark, South Australia, just off the Victorian border, and we’ve been here for around seven years. We grow around 500 kumquat trees.
Seven years ago, we bought the business from somebody else when it was very low key and we thought we could grow the business. We thought there was a niche market and thought we’d give it a go. Since then we’ve opened up the market right across Australia for our fresh fruit and our kumquat products.’
So – I’m not the only weirdo who gets boxes of kumquats in the post?
‘No – there is actually a lot of demand for it!
We could probably sell our entire fresh fruit crop, and sometimes actually have to say no when we get towards the end of the season, or we wouldn’t be able to make and sell our marmalades or our candied kumquats. ‘
‘It’s one of those forgotten fruits that’s not grown much commercially. But people will remember trying one, they’ll get excited to see them for sale and buy some to share with their family and friends. And then those people want to buy more.’
What’s up with these sour kumquats that everyone has in their gardens?
‘That’s actually not a kumquat! The ones you see in front gardens are normally ‘Calamansi’, which is also called ‘Callamondin’; they’re closer to the mandarin family.
When people say they don’t like kumquats, that’s usually the one they’ve had. And I’ll say to them, well, that’s actually not a kumquat. The Calamansi is a different family of plant: if you’ve got a true kumquat, you actually can’t peel it. You eat the whole thing.’
‘You know, everyone has their tastes and lots of people do love the Calamansi style, the sourness of them. Other people would rather have the Nagami or Marumi varieties that we grow. The Nagami is a tangy variety. Marumi is round, and tangy-sweet. Still has a little bit of a tang to it, but a good amount of natural sweetness to it as well.
Marumi has a lot more seeds, where the Nagami usually only has two or three little seeds in it.’
How do you know when a kumquat is ready to be picked?
‘They’re at their best when you’ve got full colour over the whole fruit, so it’s orange from top to bottom, and the calyx (the spot where they connect to the bush) has lost it’s green tinge. That’s when they’re sweetest.
Size doesn’t matter at all: big or little, they are all great just as long as they are beautifully bright orange all over.’
And people leave them on the tree for a long time. Is that bad?
‘No, they actually hang on the trees very well. We can actually get a good three to four months’ harvest with them.
And a kumquat tree will have a couple sets of flowers over the summer, so you can have two or three crops on your tree at once. Your harvest keeps going that little bit longer.’
On that note, how can people get the best out of the fruit?
‘Really the best way to enjoy it is straight away. As with any kind of fruit, it’s always at its prime as soon as it’s picked and delivered. Turn it into something great, or eat it right away. Don’t let it sit around in the back of the fridge for a couple of weeks, because you’re going to lose all the beautiful tenderness of the fruit.’
I have a bowl of them on my kitchen table, and we eat one every time we walk past. They’re like fruity Sour Patch Kidz.
‘That’s perfect. They should be enjoyed and shared.’
Is there a variety of kumquats that you really wish you could grow, but for some reason you can’t?
‘I would love to have the new seedless variety of Nagami. There’s one in America, but you can’t import it into Australia. I make a lot of marmalade, and that would really save me some time!’
Apart from just eating them, how do you use lots of kumquats?
‘There’s so many different things you can do with a fresh fruit or even any of the products we sell. We turn a lot of them into candied kumquats and ‘kumquat crumble’. And I actually just stir the crumble through scones. Phenomenal with a little bit of butter straight at the oven.
Our kumquat syrup is also great for marinading chicken, with a little bit of fresh thyme, some garlic, chicken fillet or chicken kebabs. Let it marinate for a couple of hours in the fridge and then chuck it on the barbecue. Yum.’
What to do with a lot of kumquats
In celebration of the harvest, I made up a batch of an old Italian liqueur called ‘kumquat elixir’ with white vermouth, vodka, lemon zest and spices. You can find the recipe here. Some other ideas I’ve used and enjoyed over the years include:
Kumquat marmalade (English style, made by charming French American Bruno Albouze)
Kumquat marmalade (Moroccan style)
Kumquatcello: macerate the whole fruit and wait at least a month before moving on with the recipe
Kumquats are delicious sliced thinly tossed through a salad or a fruit salad, or muddled into a cocktail
Rumquats: stick your kumquats with a pin a few times: stash them in a jar with rum and sugar.
Brandied kumquats with Stephanie Alexander’s recipe
Pickled Kumquats: use any recipe for Indian Lime Pickle, but substitute kumquats. It’s a little sweeter and less aggressive than a lime pickle, and every bit as fragrant
Or do as I do, most of the time: crunch them between your teeth and enjoy.
Do you have a favourite kumquat recipe? I’d love to know about it and to add it to this list…
Did you enjoy this post? The Booze News is a curated collection of new ideas, recipes and research on home boozemaking from around the web. Some are from this site, some are from other good places. Add yourself here for irregular deliveries of deliciousness.
This is part eight of a series on making sake at home, part one is here. If you haven’t picked it up from my posts, by now, let me be blunt… Making rice into alcohol is easy. Making sense of sake making is hard. There are […]
This is is part seven of a series on making sake at home, part one is here. I’ve been married to Mr. Small Batch for almost ten years now, and in that time I’ve picked up some instincts about Japanese food. For example, if your leftovers […]
This is is part six of a series on making sake at home, part one is here.
As we came to day 20 (conveniently, a Saturday), the sake fermentation had slowed down significantly. There were still small signs of fermentation but we decided to stop and take advantage of a quiet day at home. Time to strain out the solids!
My small assistant and I thought we would filter through cheesecloth set over a strainer, so we sanitised a bucket and strainer, and boiled a cloth.
However, it soon became obvious that the rice particles weren’t going to allow passive filtering, and so we switched up to a method with more force.
The cloudy sake started to fall clear, but it was still fermenting a little.
At this stage we really started to feel the pressure of the many different paths one can take with sake. To stop, to pasteurise, to let it go? We really didn’t feel we had a definitive answer. Pretty much on a coin flip and a ‘we are home today, we will be away at work all of the next week so let’s sort it out now’, we went with pasteurisation (half an hour at 60C), resealed the bottle, and put it away to, hopefully, clear.
The sake ‘cleared’, sure, but it cleared to a worrying yellow. Did we ruin it? Was it always going to be this way? We just didn’t know. We gave it a week, thinking perhaps the colour was particles still in suspension, but it stayed stubbornly yellow. And then we bottled:
Our yield was small: ten little 330ml bottles of homemade sake.
We were pleased, but kind of worried about all the different choices we’d had to make along the way to here. These ten bottles were the sum of our choices, this time.
This is part five of a series on making sake at home, part one is here. After ten days of gently stirring and peering at our moto for ten days, it was time to build the main fermentation, or moromi. During the moromi, you add more […]
This is part four of a series on making sake at home, part one is here. Once our moto was in the fridge, we had ten whole days in our sake-making adventure to twiddle our thumbs, wonder if it was all going to work, and put […]