The little citrus that makes your mouth pucker

Calamondin, also known as calamansi, Philippine lime, and Philippine lemon, is a hybrid between kumquat and another citrus (likely mandarin orange). We had a large, mature, not well-pruned tree here before, but it was right by the highway, on a down-sloping hill, and the trunk base was in a dipped area of jumbly lava rock. The fruit appeared fairly easy to pick, until you got closer to the trunk and you realized the fruit was even higher than you thought. The ground was so unstable, it was dangerous to put a ladder there. The tree was quite prolific, so we didn’t feel compelled to harvest most of it. We took the tree down a few years ago.

The fruit is about 1-2 inches in diameter. You eat it like a kumquat, thin peel and all. I find it much more sour than kumquats, lemons, and limes. To me, there isn’t that much to do with it other than use as an occasional citrus garnish or make jam. It makes a beautiful, complex-citrus flavored marmalade. I like the marmalade enough that we planted another tree in a better location.

We planted a dwarf tree in April last year, and this was how it looked in June, just a few months later. (May and June were extremely rainy last year, so there were a lot of weeds). The tree is supposed to grow up to 10-15 feet, but we hope to keep it lower.

Quite a few more fruit developed by the end of the year, and we weren’t vigilant about culling some. Enough grew on one branch, that the branch broke. We tied it to a support stake and let it just continue on. By that point we just let the fruit stay on it, since we knew we’d prune off that branch later.

We harvested the fruit several weeks ago. It probably wasn’t quite ready (there are quite a few greenish ones you can see in the photo), but the supported branch fully broke off. Fourteen cups, or four pounds four ounces, as a first harvest. Not bad. I would be happy with even that same amount every year, since I just want it to make marmalade. I get overwhelmed if we get too large a harvest. I always try to use or share what we do get. At least the fruit aren’t highly perishable.

The fruit had developed well enough that every single fruit was juicy. We compared an orange ripe-looking fruit and the greenest one we could find. Boy were they sour, especially the green one. After some discussion and consideration, we decided to use even the green ones, thinking the sugar would compensate.

The recipe I use (Bea’s) has you cook the fruit with baking soda prior to deseeding and cutting. Already the lovely calamondin juice smell brought back memories of previous marmalade making. I’ve read on the trusty internet that using baking soda helps reduce the cooking time required. The most time-consuming part of making marmalade is deseeding the fruit. Slicing across its hemisphere is preferable to cutting lengthwise, because it’s easier to remove the seeds. For the 14 cups of fruit, it took me 1.5 hours. My fingers were shriveled.

I miscalculated (pretty badly), despite notes I’ve taken from previous years, so I actually hadn’t sterilized enough jars. Fourteen cups of fresh fruit resulted in 12 cups of marmalade. Oh well. The clean, unsterilized jars will contain refrigerator jam. I like to store whatever I can in the freezer anyway to try and preserve the bright orange color as long as possible.

How does it taste? Well, this was the most bitter batch we’ve made. It’s a little disappointing, but it is what it is. It’s not as bitter as candied grapefruit peels, which I’ve made only once for a reason. My thoughts about why are: (1) the fruit was harvested a little early due to the broken branch, (2) we should have eliminated the green ones, (3) it was the tree’s first harvest (I think fruit usually improves with the tree’s age). The internet says marmalades can be bitter because the rind isn’t cooked well. There are three cooking steps: (1) bring fruit to boil with baking soda, (2) cook the slivered peels, (3) cook the fruit with the sugar. So maybe I should tweak the length of time for cooking step (2).

Tweaks and adjustments will have to wait until next year.

2 thoughts on “The little citrus that makes your mouth pucker

  1. Aloha Sharlene!
    Love your Blogs! There’s a eatery here at work that offers iced calamansi juice – it is so delicious- however it is very sweet so it probably has a lot of added sugar.

  2. Hi Sharlene…several years back a cook friend of mine showed us how to make calamondin marmalade and I loved it but I like bitter. The fruit was from a mature tree, no green fruit and it was still bitter. I like bitter melon so that’s my standard. Your marmalade looks yummy. I wish I could trade you some. Settling in to being home and without company for a bit.

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