Monday, August 30, 2010

A Citrus Pixie in the Ionian

Once upon a time the smallest child of the large, noble citrus family set out on a trip across the seas. Its brothers and sisters were so grand, so revered around the world but the tiny, pixie-like child was hardly ever heard of. Oh sure, it was well loved -as the youngest and smallest often are - back home in China, where it was even considered a symbol of luck and given as a gift at the turn of each year. But the little child always heard of the grand tales its brothers and sisters lived around the world, bringing sun on each table, being adored for their health-giving properties and for their aroma fit to perfume kings and queens and it felt saddened to have to content with such a sheltered life in obscurity. Its potential was stifled, it decided, yes, so though it had no fame, it had craftiness and resilience and one day it found its way on a ship and never looked back. The Kumquat, for that was the little citrus pixie's name, reached Europe in the middle of the 19th century but it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th that it would find another place to call home. You see, adventuring is all well and good, but the youngest, littlest children of a family oft crave to be adored not simply loved and admired. So with this little one thus. One day it met a man called Merlin who promised it fame, glory and adoration for he knew just the right people to nurture it and help it lay roots and grow, grow grand and loved and adored and used every single day just like its brothers and sisters. And so the final trip begun. The destination was the beautiful island of Corfu and the people received the little golden fruit like an exalted miracle and planted it on the most fertile place they knew of on the island: the area of Nymphes. At the dawn of the 21st century, little Kumquat's name is still lost in obscurity in most places around the world, despite its very best efforts. But littlest of the citrus fruit doesn't mind! It got its wish granted: it changes hands every single day; every single day it is eaten and enjoyed, every single day it is drank and cared for. Nowadays, it's even used to perfume the skin. Just like it's brothers and sisters!


Okay, okay, so evidently I shouldn't give up my day job to become a published children's author! But really, isn't the kumquat fascinating? For our summer vacation this year the bf and I visited Mykonos and Thessaloniki, but we really wanted to visit a place where we'd never been before so we picked Corfu. I must admit I had a few reservations at first: People would say things like "Oh, you're gonna love it but I am warning you, it is HUMID. You're gonna be hot!!!" or "You''ll get bitten by mosquitoes! There are too many mosquitoes there!". I was reasonably apprehensive, but decided to not be put off. And boy was that ever the right decision. Corfu is AMAZING. One of the most beautiful islands I have visited ever, and that says a lot considering I make a point of visiting a different one each year. Okay before I say anything else let me dispel these rumors first: From the places I visited this summer Corfu was by far the coolest: I didn't turn on the airco in the hotel room even once in the evening when we were sleeping. Oh, and I got zero mosquito bites too. Now where were we? Oh yes, how amazingly beautiful the island is! First let us consider that several princes, princesses, queens and kings have decided to make summer homes there. Does that say something about how beautiful the island is? I hope so. Off the top of my head the Danish royal family vacationed there, the Greek royal family, Princess Sissy built the most amazing summer house there and Tito of Yugoslavia used to stay at the guest house of the Greek royal family too. Most of these residences have been converted into visitable museums that I cannot recommend enough for a visit if you go to Corfu.
The island itself is incredibly colorful and green, with stunning architecture of multicultural influences: Greek, Italian, French and British. The nature of the island, combined with the beautiful architecture of the main city and the picturesque beauty of the scattered villages set against the backdrop of the crystalline Ionian sea and bright blue Greek skies fills the soul with a feeling of restfulness, contentment and joy. We Greeks would describe the vistas and the island life as "balsamic" and while this might easily be lost in translation in most circles, I know the audience that reads this blog can fully understand the soothing nuances implied and the happy, heart-healing feelings inferred.



But back to the little citrus pixie, the little fruit which so wanted to be loved. Reader, you better believe it found love on the island of Corfu! It's impossible to visit the island and not feel its presence. After Merlin brought the fruit to the island the Corfiots did indeed plant it at the most fertile spot of the island, acres and acres of it in fact. They planted it, loved it and made it their own. They made it the island's symbol in fact. Today 90-180 tons of the fruit are picked each year and the Corfiots, aside from using it in their dishes (both sweet and savory) make it into just about everything imaginable: Marmalades and jellies, preserves, teas, kumquat-flavored rahat loukhoum, glacés and liquers. All of these products are extremely ubiquitous and make obligatory gifts. That is, if you are a Greek from another place and you visit Corfu, you'd better bring back some for your loved ones! Why? Well, Kumquat only grows in Corfu - it doesn't grow anywhere else in Greece. Outside Greece too Kumquat is extremely rare. Consider that in all the countries I've lived in and all those I've visited I've only ever seen the fruit make an appearance only once. While I am sure it is common in Asia which is after all its home, it seems that even after all this time the Kumquat remains a well-kept secret from most people.

While I have not tried every single product featuring the fruit the island has to offer, I want to help you experience this golden little treasure through the products I did try. The most ubiquitous and most-oft bought as gift is the Kumquat liquer, an aperitif that tastes very sweet, yet light and smooth with the unmistakable exotic citrus flavor of the fruit itself rising to the palate with each sip. I cannot recommend this enough as an accompaniment to coffee; if you can stand to drink the gritty Greek coffee, all the better. The combination can't be beat. The glacés on the other hand are probably the best way to taste Kumquat if you really want to experience its nuances. The fruit itself has a sweet peel, but a bitter-sour flesh and as such is not for everyone eaten raw. Candied and glazed however, just like the Corfiots love to eat it, it becomes an amazing delicacy. The fruit is tiny as I mentioned before (about the size of an olive) and thus can be picked with the fingers and popped in the mouth. Prepared this way, the fruit gives all it has to offer in terms of aroma. The aromatic oils from the peel burst in the mouth and the inside is soft and gooey. The flavor is bitter sweet and extremely flavorsome. The best thing about it is that it leaves a beautiful freshness in the mouth that is very long-lasting. Vendors keep offering them to passersby, so as you might imagine our strolls through the island streets felt very refreshing indeed, with this beautiful aroma lingering in our mouth and nose even after having consumed the fruit.

For us perfume lovers the most exciting perhaps would be the Kumquat's latest incarnation. Yes, Corfu has started making perfume from its star product and I've scoured the island to find the best one. A word of warning: I've tried several different ones and they are not of uniform quality, nor do they all really smell like Kumquat or retain the Kumquat's scent for a long time. The one I am presenting here is the best one I found and one that truly smells like Kumquat throughout. The name is simply "Kumquat for Woman" and it is produced by The Land of Corfu Natural Products. If you visit Corfu and are interested in acquiring it, you can find the shop that sells it on 25, Filarmonikis & St. Spiridon corner. The focus is on the Kumquat (flesh, leaves and blossoms) and little to no other distractions have been added to distract the wearer from the star attraction. That sounds bizarre perhaps: how does the construction hold without a noticeable solid base, such as wood for example? I do not know, but it does and it holds. Even hours after I apply, all I smell is the Kumquat itself. That is not to say it does not have other things in it of course; all it means is that to me at least, they are indiscernible. From this I am sure you've already garnered the progression is relatively linear, but it is not without its nuances. The opening is very intensely citrusy, almost abrasive and to me at least, not very pleasant. After five minutes however my patience is very much rewarded: Suddenly I can smell the almost green freshness of the peel as well as delicate, beautiful sweetness. With time, the fragrance turns more and more away from the citrusy freshness of the peel and towards the hypnotic beauty of the blossoms. If you love white blossom scents this is definitely something worthy of experiencing as it smells like a cross between orange, mandarin and gardenia flowers at once. The fragrance proceeds virtually unchanging from here one, but turns more and more honeyed as it fades, as though the blossoms are leaving their last gasps under a layer of lightweight flower nectar. If I'm honest, I'll say that I was more impressed with the perfume offerings of Zakynthos/Zante. (Longtime readers might remember that the family operated perfumery there makes six different perfumes one of which, made by an indigenous variety of jasmine which the locals call "bougarini" left me seriously impressed.) But this is absolutely unique as well not to mention something that is very hard to find and of good quality in its own right. Being so linear, I'll be using this in layering combinations with my other perfumes to lend them a "Kumquat kick", thus turning memories of my holiday into a beautiful, perfumed collage of interwoven scents.

Images: kumquats via Flickr by orphanjones, kumquat liquers via wikipedia.org, images of Corfu by A. Alexiou, the blossoms of Fortunella Margarita (the species of kumquat grown in Corfu) via wikimedia.com


9 comments:

kjanicki said...

Both corfu and the perfume sound gorgeous! thank you for posting about something I've never heard about.

PinstripedZebra said...

A fairytale to start a review with, I love the idea! And as a good tale should it is about a little child looking up to her established siblings and striving to reach the heights of fame they have achieved. It even has a famous magician!

Corfu is amazing, that is a place I will for sure visit again, loved the architecture, the atmosphere and it is much bigger then we could see in the amount of time we had.

The perfume is interesting to say the least, citrus being one of my all time favourites.

//Z

Flora said...

Divina, what a delightful story! Corfu looks like a true paradise to me. I first tried Kumquat as a child, and I thought it was delicious. I thought it was the one citrus variety that would never be used for perfumery, but I am happy to know that I was wrong!

Those kumquat confections you describe are making me crave it too!

How does the fragrance of the fresh blossoms compare with orange or lemon blossom? Is it as sweet as the orange flower?

Ines said...

Divina, you're finally back! :) And with such a wondrous story.
I got to know kumquat a year or so ago because a friend managed to grow a little tree on her balcony. She doesn't like the taste of it but I adore it (and yes, I do understand that eating it fresh might not be for everyone, you described the taste perfectly).
The perfume sounds delightful - pretty much what I want in my summer scents.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Divina! I just wrote a comment but it disappeared? Oh well, here I go again, I was saying that both Corfu and the perfume sound dreamy.. I think I'll have to visit next summer!

xo,

Christine

Linda said...

Fabulous! You have such a lovely way with words! Welcome back from your holiday, dear Divina, and I know I speak for all when I say how much I'm looking forward to more of your posts,
Hugs,
Linda

Karin said...

What a wonderful post, Divina! Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Now I know I need to go to Corfu...

Sophia said...

Nice story Divina. My parents have been to Corfu before and they said it was beautiful!

~Sophia
Fit&FabLiving

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