This weekend, folks from near and far will be flocking to pay homage to the kumquat — a distant Asian relative of the citrus family that is harvested from November through April 1 in local groves.
The kumquat has long been a traditional symbol of prosperity during Chinese New Year's celebrations. In recent years, the tiny fruit with a powerful, tart punch has caught on as a decorative addition for Thanksgiving and Christmas centerpieces. The juicy Nagami variety has also captured the attention of chefs worldwide, while the sweeter Meiwa is favored as a snacking fruit.
In past years, some 40,000 have attended the Kumquat Festival, taking the opportunity to taste a piece of kumquat pie, chutney or marmalade, homemade cookies. Or perhaps some even have had a daring go at simply popping an oval Nagami into the mouth whole, chewing slowly to savor the tart, then sweet flavor that comes when fruity flesh blends with the thin, orange peel.
The one-day gala includes a bevy of family friendly activities — arts and crafts, face painting, antique cars and musical entertainment with lots of opportunities to sample the fruit. The festival also culminates a month of kumquat-related events including a recipe contest, the Dade City Merchants' window decorating contest, Miss and Mr. Kumquat pageant and the Kumquat Growers Open House.
The open house, to be held Thursday and Friday, might appeal to early birds wanting a preview of what's to come and learn more about how the fruit is cultivated and harvested — snipped with a pair of sharp, shears rather than plucked, lest the fruit spoil.
The open house will include tours of the adjacent groves and packing house, free samples, a farmers market, bluegrass music and presentations by Roger Swain, former host of PBS' Victory Garden.
"It's a nice alternative for people who want to beat the crowds," said Margie Neuhofer, whose family shares ownership of the Kumquat Growers Inc., along with the Gude family.
Word is Greg Gude has whipped up 1,000 pies with the help of his employees to be sold by the slice at Saturday's fest. Those who go can pick up a copy of the recipe or check out others, also available on the Kumquat Growers website, including Neuhofer's own special concoction "Margie's Kumquat Cake," which she serves on special occasions and employee birthdays at the packing house.
"It's simple. I use a boxed cake mix, but people think I made always it from scratch," Neuhofer said. "They all go wild over it."