The oranges are tiny, delicate Calamondins. The fruit, a tangerine-kumquat hybrid, “is about the size of a cherry tomato,” says Mitchell Altholz, executive chef of Highlawn Pavilion and The Manor, both less than a mile from Pleasantdale Chateau. All three upscale properties are owned and operated by the Knowles family.
Altholz recently used the Calamondins in a pork dish of belly and tenderloin. Next week he will create a menu special in which the fruit’s sweet-and-sour flavor will offset the richness of foie gras wrapped in prosciutto and sprinkled with fleur de sel.
Pastry chef Duane Hendershot explains that the juicy little gems have a thin skin. “They require hand picking," he says. "If you just yank them off the branches, the skin will break.”
That skin is important. It is sweet, while the flesh is sour. To subdue the tartness, the chefs gently poach the sliced oranges, rind and all, for nearly an hour and a half in a sugar syrup flavored with fresh ginger and cinnamon. The process candies the fruit.
Hendershot likes to make Calamondin marmalade to serve with ice cream, stir into cake batter or pipe into pastry.
The Calamondin is believed to have originated in China and is easily grown throughout Southeast Asia, where they are sometimes frozen and put in drinks in place of ice cubes. They are also grown in the warmer climates of North America, but their frost intolerance makes them an exotic greenhouse item in the frigid Northeast.
“They have medicinal uses,” Hendershot adds. The fruit is said to calm the itch of bug bites, temper a cough, and clear acne.
Pleasantdale’s trees, reaching nearly two stories to the atrium’s glass roof, are believed to be 50 years old. They grew from cuttings planted when the Chateau was built in the 1930s.
The 2015 crop looks to be prodigious. If you hurry, you might be able to savor a sweet-and-sour treat to brighten this harsh winter, which we hope will soon transition from lion mode to lamb mode. How about a lamb dish with Calamondins to send March packing, chef?
SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at suzannelowery.com.Click here to leave a comment