For more than two decades, the kumquat – lovingly known as the “little gold gem of the citrus industry” – has reigned supreme in Dade City, Florida. Founded in 1971 in Florida’s Sports Coast, it boasts the largest concentration of kumquat growers and product manufacturers in the nation, and is home to the Annual Kumquat Festival.
Native to China, kumquats feature a thin, sweet peel and a zesty, somewhat tart center. Just like grapes, kumquats can be eaten whole, peel and all. There are four types of kumquats, two of which are grown and harvested in Florida’s Sports Coast – the Nagami and the Meiwa. Unlike their relative, the orange, kumquats are multiple bloomers, allowing growers to harvest several times throughout the year between May and September.
While Nagami kumquats can be grown throughout Florida, they produce larger and juicier fruit in eastern Pasco County due to the sandy soils along the hills. The Nagami’s tartness makes it ideal for cooking and making marmalade and jellies. Meiwa kumquats are rounder, and known as “sweet kumquats.” They have few seeds and are best eaten whole, but they are a rare commercial find for kumquat lovers.
The fruit’s unique flavor lends itself as a pleasant addition to many dishes, desserts and salads, and it can also be candied or kabobbed; it is also a favorite for jellies, jams, salsas and chutneys. Kumquat enthusiasts also know that the fruit tastes best when it is gently rolled between the fingers before eating, as it releases the essential oils in the rind.
Celebrating its 26th iteration on January 28, 2023, the Kumquat Festival was inspired by a family’s love for the tiny citrus. The Gude family, founders of the Kumquat Growers, Inc., are fourth and fifth generation Florida farmers who settled in 1883 in the community now known as St. Joseph, lovingly referred to as St. Joe.
At the time, most residents grew strawberries, citrus and vegetables, and raised livestock. In 1914, the Gudes began growing kumquats. Today, St. Joseph is recognized as the “Kumquat Capital of the World.”
Visitors to the festival can sample a variety of kumquat culinaria, from beer to jams, salsa and other kumquat-flavored or infused items. But the crowd favorite is, and probably will always be, Rosemary’s kumquat pie.
Originally created by Rosemary Gude, it quickly became a staple among Kumquat Festival attendees, to the point of being designated as the official pie of Pasco County.
The free signature event welcomes more than 20,000 attendees annually, including local residents from Tampa Bay and surrounding counties as well as winter tourists and day-trippers seeking to celebrate the versatility, sustainability and delicious taste of the lovely little fruit.
“The Annual Kumquat Festival is a wonderful tradition to kick off the New Year in Dade City,” said Adam Thomas, tourism director of Florida’s Sports Coast. “This event is the perfect way to get a taste, both literally and figuratively, of the history of our city and of the significant work that the Kumquat Growers do in Pasco County.”
The festival also serves as a marketplace focused on local businesses, featuring more than 450 vendors.
In Asian countries, kumquats have historically been given as a traditional gift on Lunar New Year. In Cantonese and Mandarin, the name of the tree sounds like the word for ‘good luck,’ symbolizing golden coins and therefore prosperity. The auspicious little fruit has certainly brought prosperity to the communities of Pasco County. At the Kumquat Festival, storefronts decorated in kumquat-inspired themes are filled with gift items inspired by the prosperous fruit.
“For nearly three decades, our wonderful community has embraced the kumquat as its own, and we look forward to sharing all of the hard work and delicious offerings that the kumquat growers of our area do to make this festival happen,” said John Moors, executive director of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.
Ahead of this year’s festivities, folks can attend the traditional open house at the kumquat packing house. Here, visitors can learn about the history and origin of the kumquat, enjoy a tour of the packing house and the kumquat grove to experience the fruit in its natural habitat.
The 2023 Kumquat Festival happens on Saturday, January 28, 2023 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in downtown Dade City, Florida.