Citrus Season

It always seems fitting to me that as the days grow longer, and we see more of the sun, citrus season comes into full swing. While we’re far from the warm, citrus-producing regions of California and Florida, we eagerly devour what our climate cannot produce, and are thankful for the trade. Soon enough, the maple sap in Vermont’s sugar bushes will be flowing, and maple syrup will make its way West and South.

Unlike berries or tomatoes, citrus comes in its own travel-ready package, a tough peel that keeps all the juicy sweetness inside, none the worse for its journey. Citrus is delicious eaten raw and fresh, with juice dribbling down your hands, as well as zested, juiced, and segmented in recipes, and there are more varieties in Produce this winter than I think I’ve ever seen before:

One particularly prolific member of the orange family is the Mandarin, which has a thicker, dimpled skin and sweet-sour taste distinct from common oranges. If you’re not sure what you’re holding in your hand is a Mandarin, tangerine, clementine, Satsuma, or something else, go with “Mandarin.”

Mandarins are a class of orange that can be traced back thousands of years to China, and through selection and cross-pollination have given rise to hundreds of varieties, including all those named above. (And even within the varieties, like “tangerine,” there are lots of different named kinds that have been selected for different flavors, like Golden Nugget, Murcotte, Honey tangerines, etc.).

Mandarins have also been crossed with other citrus fruits to give rise to even more varieties:

Temple orange (sometimes called a “Tangor”): a cross between a tangerine and a common orange; sometimes called temple oranges because of their attractice color and shape:

Tangelos (sometimes called a “Minneola Tangelo” or just “Minneola”) – a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit, recognizable by its puckered shape:

Meyer Lemon – thought to be a cross between a Mandarin or common orange and a lemon (hence it’s sweeter flavor and more golden coloring):

There will be some great in-store citrus samples on Saturday, February 11 between 11-3 as we celebrate the flavors of the tropics:

For all you food history and literature lovers, I can recommend a great book (imagine that, not a website!) originally published by the amazing chronicler of American life, John McPhee, called “Oranges” (originally published in 1966, re-issued in 2000). It covers the botany of oranges (including why oranges have segments), how oranges ripen (including why color is not an indicator or ripeness), the orange growers and early growing cooperatives in Florida (fitting for this Year of the Co-op), and the history and folklore of oranges.

However, I won’t leave you without ANY website recommendations.

Eating Well, just a few miles south of us, has a great on-line recipe database, and you can find many healthy citrus recipes on it.

And once you’ve used all that citrus in those recipes, what to do with the peels? Over at the Local Kitchen blog, Kaela, who blogs from the Hudson Valley and calls herself a “mocavore” (mostly locavore), has compiled great links about culinary and household uses for citrus peels. My favorite (easy!) suggestion comes from a commenter who wrote: “I throw mine in a glass canning jar and cover with vinegar. Wait 6 weeks & dump into a spray bottle for a citrusy household cleaner.”

And here’s one of my favorite recipes to make with citrus zest, juice, AND fruit:

Fresh Muesli
Soaked rolled oats combine with yogurt and fruit for a refreshing breakfast.

For the base:
1 cup whole rolled oats, lightly toasted if desired
for a nuttier flavor
1 lemon or orange, zested
1 cup orange juice, approximately (more yields a thinner muesli and less
yields a thicker muesli) - about 2 oranges
¼ cup raisins or other chopped dried fruit

Additions:
2-3 cups fresh fruit, such as grated apple, sliced banana, fresh citrus chunks, sliced grapes, etc.
Juice from ½ lemon, or to taste
½ cup sliced toasted nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, or hazelnuts
1 cup yogurt
Maple syrup or honey for drizzling

Stir together oats, lemon/orange zest, orange juice, and raisins in a large bowl until well combined. Cover and allow to sit out overnight. The oats will absorb most of the liquid. Just before serving, grate or chop the fruit and stir into muesli, along with the toasted nuts, yogurt, and lemon juice. Drizzle maple syrup or honey over the top and serve. Serves 4.

Note: The muesli base can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and the fruit can be varied each time you make it. Leftovers of muesli, once you add the yogurt, do not keep well in the fridge.