DADE CITY, Fla. — While lots of people will be heading down to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa this weekend for Gasparilla, thousands more will be descending on Dade City.

That’s where they hold the annual Kumquat festival, paying homage to one of Florida’s smaller and lesser-known Citrus crops.

Last year a hard freeze all but wiped out Florida’s Kumquat groves. So, with this year’s festival just days away, how are they doing?

“This year, we’re going to have kumquat,” promises Greg Gude, whose family has been growing kumquats in Dade City since 1971.

Gude’s family provides the bulk of the bite-size citrus fruit for the area’s annual Kumquat Festival.

You do know what kumquats are, right?

“We never knew what kumquats were before we came to the kumquat festival,” said Janet Murley, who now visits each year from Boston.

“The kumquat is an orange inverted, basically,” says Gude. “The peel is sweet, and the inside is tart.”

Last year, when temperatures hit 24 degrees, it devastated the crop, so there were no kumquats at the Kumquat Festival.

Visitors, like Rick Rooks from Plant City, home fo the annual Strawberry Festival, pointed out the irony of that.

“For Dade City, it’s just as important as Plant City and the strawberries,” he said.

But the farmers and Kumquat Festival organizers moved forward. They were still able to make pies, marmalades, even beer and wine from Kumquat purée.

It was still good, but his year festival visitors hope to get their hands on some actual kumquats, which they describe as a small, tart, orangey fruit with a sweet edible skin.

“I like the fact that you can eat the whole thing there,” said Bill Mazalewski, who now makes it an annual outing. “The first time we tried it there, we didn’t know what to expect.”

Gude says there isn’t enough fruit for free samples this year, but some are better than none. They even stopped exporting kumquats back in December to make sure they’d have enough on hand.

“There is still going to be a limited supply,” said Gude, “We’re not going to be able to sell everybody a big box, or big bag of them. We’re going to sell them in small containers to try to spread them out.”

Part of the reason for the parsing is that last year’s freeze turns out to have been more damaging than they originally thought. Instead of wiping out about a third of the trees, Gude says they lost twice that.

One way growers hope to never have another kumquat festival without kumquats is by using specialized protective nets that coat about $10 a piece. They’ll actually ask festival visitors to sponsor the idea during this year’s festival. Sort of a “GoFundMe” effort.

Gude says it’s been a hard lesson, but they’re better prepared now to protect their crop from another hard freeze using innovations that will help ensure a fruitful festival for years to come, and “Get us to where we are growing great healthy trees, and not so many things to worry about.”

This Thursday and Friday, Kumquat Growers Groves is having an open house in Dade City, so people can check out the groves for themselves and get a preview of what they’ll see - and taste - at this year’s festival – Saturday - in downtown Dade City.

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