A Story of Kumquats - A Practice in Creative Nonfiction

Saturday, March 1, 2008

“A Story of Kumquats”

By Garrett McCord

"The hell...?"

The exclamation escaped as, from a passing glance at the shadowed dirt gathered so perfectly around a tree, I noticed a small orange something. The simple cement planter of dirt allotted for the tree was moss covered and, dashed upon the dull green and brown ground, were meteorites of citrus - kumquats.

They were scattered about, breaking up the miniature and contained landscape with bright declarations of fruit. Many remained whole, whereas others had been tasted and discarded by animals who had disagreed with their sweet-tart flavor, and then there were others which gravity's force had pummeled, the little fruits' tight skins bludgeoned open, their insides oozing onto the ground.

"Well I'll be damned."
A kumquat tree, in the middle of the Sacramento State campus. I circled it a few times examining it. I was taking into account what fruit was there and remained. More so, I was locking the tree there with my gaze, as if looking away would suddenly render the tree barren. I was determined to keep the dazzling orange tree-scape bound to the earth and in my vision, a bounty this great would be too much to lose.

Part of my mind wanted to reject the boon. Though I knew that in all actuality, Northern California was ideal for growing kumquats, the tree in itself seemed out of place. There were no other fruit trees, as far as I knew, on the campus. This one seemed to have been simply plucked from an orchard and planted for no reason, as if the original landscaper had frivolously decided, on a whim perhaps, to grab a single kumquat tree from a nursery and drop it in front of the English Department. A random act of generous landscape design.

I continued to walk my repetitive gyre, investigating my find. It seemed the lower branches had been plucked a bit, as the citrus was sparse and, in some places, altogether gone. The higher the branches went, about 15 feet at its peak, the less green foliage there was and the more the bright sun-repelling balls took over.

It would be a waste, I decided, to let them all go to the birds and ground. I started my ascent. I lofted my backpack against a forked limb, shaking it to ensure that my rustling wouldn't cause it to fall. Locking myself into an awkward foothold and bracing my rear on a flimsy but fibrous branch I began to examine the dangling nubile fruits.

Each little kumquat, firm and ripe, begging to be plucked. As I began to grab my mind raced and my smile widened. The possibilities! The extravagence! The wealth that only I knew existed here.

At first I began to examine each little 'quat, seeing if it was green and early or jubilant in its springtime hues. But the umbrage cast by the slight canopy above me made it difficult and I soon found myself no longer caring. Into the backpack they went.

Pop. Off the tree. Slip. Into the backpack. Pop. Pop. Pop. Another tug at the limbs. Slip. Slip. This was a mission. Pop. Pop. Slip. Slip. Pop. Again and again.

Slip. One dropping out of my hand, bouncing off the ground, rolling away and catching the attention of a passerby, who may have began to wonder about that kumquat and the tree itself. Or not.

More people began to pass as I plucked away. I wondered what some of them thought of me, if they understood my citrusy pleasure and mission, or chose to just ignore me, writing me off as simply a crazy man up a tree. I decided I didn't care and went about my harvesting

The pockets of my backpack began to bulge, obese with kumquats. Too many to count. Enough to eat through classes. Enough to make kumquat salsa. Enough to make candied kumquats. Enough to brew kumquat marmalade. Enough to cure into preserved kumquats. More than enough to share.

The backpack began to grown heavy, the forked limb beginning to bend and give. I examined my watch, and realized I was out of time. Class would begin in a few minutes; Postmodern Fiction waited for no one. My legs began to grow stiff, my ass dirty, and the remaining kumquats were out of my reach. Any further plucking would require risk and balance, and while my spirit was up to the task, my aching legs were not. I would have to return to my newly discovered treasure, hidden in plain sight.

I wasn't worried that they would be gone. No one would take them. What better defense could there be than people's own discomfort? How many people would climb a tree in front of so many peers, foolishly fearing judgment from faceless never-to-be-seen-agains? No, the kumquats would be there next week.

Waiting for me.


  1. Oh, Garrett, that kumquat tree was waiting just for you! I'm so glad you got to enjoy the bounty.

  2. Oh wow..now tell me where in Sac state is this tree..Just kidding Garrett..this tree is all yours. Waiting to see what you make with them

  3. If your ever on Freeport Blvd the Washington Mutual Bank there has several Kumquat trees, FYI
    Can't wait to see what great recipes you come up with

  4. Those are so pretty!! I havent had a kumquat in a long time!

  5. I have a kumquat in my yard that is calling your name. seriously.
    Let me know:)

  6. Garrett ~ What a great find! Eric's mom has a kumquat tree, and I've plundered the branches for a few years. My favorite use is to pickle them in vinegar, which I found out about in my readings on the cuisines of Morocco a few years back. Agrodolce in one serving, a perfect study of balance.

  7. Other than being insanely jealous that there is a kumquat tree that you can pillage (I'm in the tundra.. the only citrus we get has been hauled by truck), I have to give you Italian Mom kudos for climbing the tree and picking 'quats in full view of passersby.

    Now, growing up, it was nothing for a carload of various aunts and cousins to stop in front of someone's house, send a kid to knock on the door, and ask if we could take the massive fungi that had just formed on their giant oak tree. God forbid you let perfectly good fruit fall from your fruit tree onto the ground... my relatives would think that you didn't care about said tree and a child or two would be sent to knock on your door and innocently ask if they could pick fruit (because kids are cute) and once permission was granted, the aunts would swoop down like a swarm of locusts and pick that tree clean (well, they'd leave one or two peaches/plums/mulberries for you, since it's your tree and all.)

    I have nightmares of walking the golf course in early spring to go dandelion-green picking, miles spent walking around the reservoir picking wild raspberries & blackberries, and every kids' favorite... going to the cemetary after it rains to go mushroom hunting.

    I'm going to look at the store for some kumquats to candy, thanks to your kumquatini pics (yum).

  8. Oh my gosh, I'm so happy I found your blog! I've been wanting to get a handful kumquats for a long time, but I've been too embarrassed so I can only escape with a couple of them haha. I've tried collecting chestnuts though lol. And isn't there a fig tree right across it at Douglass Hall?

  9. Hey Garret, loving your blog!

    I too had a love affair with Kumquats - now we are living together... lol

    Here's my contribution to the Kumquat recipe archive:


  10. reminds me of the infamous mulberry raids on the calarts mulberry tree....

  11. yes! that tree is fantastic. so many of my shirts had stains from the berries. even my painting teacher, Jay, climbed up the tree during class.

  12. Hahaha, I did that too! My friend was so embarrassed, but who cares? : ) I graduated already, but I want to go there just to get some of those kumquats again haha.


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