By Barbara Kobsar
Climatic differences between the citrus producing states (California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, Louisiana and Georgia) guarantee that we’ll have oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes year round but Mandarins, Cara Cara, Moro or Blood oranges, kumquats, pomelos, and Buddha’s hand or citron are arriving fresh picked now from local farms.
The smallest of the group is the olive-shaped, bright-orange kumquat. Use for decorative purposes or for making marmalade. The whole kumquat is edible, and the skin is actually sweeter than the seedy flesh.
By comparison, the thick-skinned pomelo (also know as Chinese grapefruit) is the largest citrus fruit and an ancestor to the ubiquitous grapefruit. The pomelo’s light colored pulp is generally drier and less acidic than grapefruit’s-a little sugar helps to bring out the juice.
Buddha’s hand (citron) is probably the most intriguing and newest member in the local citrus club. Undoubtedly named for the gnarly yellow “fingers” emerging from the fruit’s base, Buddha’s hand is more of a decorative piece in my kitchen. In China, it’s a symbol of good luck, happiness, and longevity, and I’ll take that too. The problem with eating Buddha’s hand is that it is all skin, with nothing but pith under the outside layer of fragrant, tasty zest. You can use the zest in any recipe calling for lemon zest. Use a zester to remove just the colored part of the peel, or a vegetable peeler if you want larger pieces. Slice the Buddha’s hand and candy it to make citron for dessert making.
Oranges are definitely the most diverse group of citrus, and there are three basic types: sweet, bitter, and loose skinned Mandarins.
California’s sweet, seedless Navel orange is considered the finest table orange, while Florida’s thin-skinned Valencia is the top quality juice orange.
Sweet Cara Cara oranges are relatively new at the local farmers’ markets, and were an instant hit in my house. Cara Cara look like Navel oranges, but they have deep salmon-pink colored flesh. I find Cara Cara oranges slightly juicier and sweeter than navels, and they have an intriguing hint of grapefruit flavor.
Sweet-tart Moro or blood oranges sport a beautiful deep pink or red flesh under orange skin (sometimes with a blush of red). As a snack or used in salads, sauces and dressings, this orange is full of dramatic taste and color.
Mandarins include a large group of “zipper-skinned” oranges with loose segments that divide easily, so there’s no wonder we think they’re so great. Tangerines, tangelos (a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit), and tangors (a cross between a tangerine and a sweet orange) are all Mandarins. I look for Fairchild and Satsuma tangerines and the Minneola in the tangelo department.
Bitter or sour oranges (Sevilles) are available on a limited basis during the first part of the year. Their high acid content makes them ideal candidates for marmalade, and the highly scented, thick skin is perfect for making candied peel.
Tips for using citrus: Heavy citrus means lots of juice, and only a mere 3/4 cup of fresh squeezed juice or 1/2 cup whole fruit sections will provide your daily amount of vitamin C. Citrus fruits need no refrigeration if stored at a cool room temperature and used within a week, but when citrus of any kind is placed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, the storage time increases to 2 or 3 weeks.
Enjoy, and see you at the farmers’ markets.