Produce harvested at its peak is your sure bet for flavor and freshness.
By Barbara Kobsar | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-Lodge
Winter markets are brimming with citrus in all sizes, shapes, and flavors.
For a tiny treat, try the kumquat. The whole fruit is mouth-poppingly edible, skin and all, and the skin is much sweeter than the seedy flesh. Use it to make marmalade. On the other end of the citrus spectrum is the thick-skinned pomelo, ancestor to the grapefruit. Try it broiled with brown sugar and flaky salt. Hands down oddest in shape is the Buddha’s hand. Shave its fragrant skin into any dish or drink to get a citrus spark.
Oranges offer a wide range, from sweet to bitter types. I consider California’s sweet, seedless navel orange the finest table orange while Florida’s thin-skinned Valencia tops the list as a juice orange. The red-fleshed Cara Cara navel orange draws attention for its beautiful pink flesh and sweet juice, although it’s tied for my favorite with the sweet-tart blood orange, which offers a rich orange taste with a surprising hint of raspberry. For a bitter taste, I won’t pass up Seville oranges, since they’re ideal for marmalade making.
The large group of easy-to-peel, easy-to-segment oranges called mandarins include tangerines, tangelos (tangerine/grapefruit crosses), and tangors (tangerine/sweet orange crosses). Most sought after at the farmers’ markets are the Fairchild and Satsuma tangerines and Minneola tangelos.
Lemons are indispensable for drinks, fish dishes, curds, desserts, vinaigrettes, and sauces. Meyer lemons offer a mildly acidic flavor and tend to be rounder in shape and deeper yellow in color than the familiar Lisbon and Eureka lemons.
The early months of winter are the time to showcase pears, the most flavorful and buttery soft of all fruits, and one that’s been in cultivation for thousands of years. These fruits are essential in my winter kitchen for both aesthetic and culinary reasons.
Green- or red-skinned Anjou are the most common and longest running of the season. I enjoy their slightly spicy taste by simply slicing them over a pizza topped with prosciutto and gorgonzola cheese or in a green salad.
I eat any pear ripe and fresh, but red Bartletts stand out in the crowd. [Here's an easy recipe for pear clafoutis that works so well with Bartletts.]
Slices of plump, large Comice pears team up nicely with a dollop of brie or blue cheese.
The dense flesh of the long, tapered-neck Bosc pear stands up well to heat, so it’s ideal to bake or poach in my favorite combination of red wine, cinnamon, and cloves.
Since pears take a few days to ripen, display them in a pretty bowl until they become aromatic and yield slightly to gentle thumb pressure near the base of the stem. Cut pears just before serving since exposed surfaces oxidize and turn brown. A squeeze of lemon or lime juice over the slices helps prevent discoloration. Once ripe, the pears need to be enjoyed as soon as possible, but you might get away with storing them in the refrigerator for a few days, as long as they’re away from strong-smelling foods like onion and cabbage. ♦
Veteran journalist Barbara Kobsar has authored two cookbooks focusing on traditional home-cooked meals using local produce. You’ll find her each Sunday at the Walnut Creek market and on Saturdays at the Orinda and San Ramon markets selling her Cottage Kitchen jams and jellies made from farmers’ market produce.
Artist Charmaine Koehler-Lodge grows most of her family’s food in their rural Pennsylvania garden.