It is in the coldest part of the year when the tropical regions reward us with delicious and exotic citrus fruits. There are hundreds of varieties of citrus fruit, the majority of which are harvested in winter. (Key limes are an exception). Citrus fruits can be enjoyed as a snack, cut up in salads, juiced, made into salad dressings and vinaigrettes, mixed in sauces, or added to baked goods. These bright jewels are perfect to accompany heavy meat and stew dishes on the winter table. In the past, citrus fruit was grown in exotic destinations, but they are now also grown in Florida and California, making them available in most grocery stores all over the US. Citrus can be stored in the fridge for a few weeks (if kept away from other vegetables, especially onion, which cause them to spoil fast) or on the countertop if consumed within a week.
Health Benefits and Warning
Citrus fruits are especially known for their abundance of vitamin C. A chronic lack of Vitamin C causes a disease known as Scurvy. Scurvy plagued early civilizations, especially on long voyages across the ocean, until the late 1400s, when the link between the Scurvy cure and citrus fruit was put together. There are still rare occurrences of Scurvy in modern days. Citrus fruits are also full of antioxidants. Their pigments contain the same polyphenols as beets and blueberries.
What Does “Supreming” Mean?
Some recipes call for “supreming” an orange, especially for salads and making compotes or when served in slices. Supreming is a technique of cutting the pith and removing the membrane of each section of the citrus.
What Is Zesting?
Sometimes recipes ask for the zest of lemon or orange. Zesting is the process of finely grating off the exterior of a citrus fruit just before the white interior side is reached. Grating any further will result in a bitter tasking substance.
Varieties of Citrus
There are many new varieties of hybrids and crosses between various types of citrus. From the traditional lemons and oranges, the selection of citrus fruits has become more exotic: There are now Kumquats, Pomelos, and Buddha’s hands, for example.
The Lemons and Limes
Lemons mainly fall into two varieties: the thick-skinned Eureka and the thin-skinned Lisbon. My favorite variety is the sweet and delicious tasting Meyer lemons, available only for a short period of time in the peak of the winter. The delicious Pink lemons are the latest novelty. Buddha’s hand is a type of lemon, and the fingers open as it ripens. It is extremely fragrant and is the most versatile citrus fruit, and does not need to be peeled. Limes are probably the most common citrus fruit used in our kitchens. Persian Limes (sometimes called Tahiti limes) look like smaller lemons, just yellow-orange on the inside. Persian limes are acidic with a tangy flavor, but they lack the floral bouquet of Key limes. Persian limes are used as a substitute for vinegar in marinades. Because of their thick skin, they are easier to ship and available year.
Key limes are prized for their tartness and aromatic flavor and are used in the famous Key Lime pie. They got their name from the Florida Keys, but today they are grown all over Florida and in California. Their harvest time is in June and September, though, so they are the exception to the other winter citrus fruits. They are light yellow when ripe and contain more seeds than regular green limes. Their skin is also very thin, which means they do not store well. The average lemon contains three tablespoons of juice, while smaller limes contain two tablespoons. Lemon juice added to drinking water is very refreshing, especially first thing in the morning. The oil from the skin of lemons can be used in cleaning products.
Oranges and Tangerines
Oranges come in bitter or sweet categories. Navel Oranges are the most common variety and are the best for eating. This hybrid, a crossing of tangelo and mandarin orange, is named after the human navel because of the indentation, which in fact, is a small second orange and looks like a human navel or bellybutton. The Naval Orange mutation came from a single branch on a sour orange tree in the garden of a monastery in Brazil in the early 1800s, and all of the navel oranges that we eat today are genetically identical to the original orange. Navel Oranges are most suited for eating as a snack or in salads. If using for juice, consume it fast since they also ferment easily. They do not yield much juice. They are seedless and come in several varieties, such as Cara Cara, which has a sweet cherry-like flavor and is the best for eating “straight .” Florida’s Valencia oranges have the thinnest skin and are known as “the juicing orange .”The once rare Italian Blood oranges are popular for the eye-catching color or the flash and sweet raspberry flavor. Blood oranges are great for cooking, have a strong citrus flavor, are less acidic than other oranges, and are also easier to peel. Seville Oranges are perfect for making marmalades.
Tangerines got their name from the city of Tangier in Morocco. They are smaller oranges with the longest harvest season. They are sweeter than oranges and easier to peel. Mandarins, the least acidic of the citrus fruits, have seeds and are harder to peel. The terms “mandarin orange” and “tangerine” are often used interchangeably, as there are many other hybrids and names that can get confusing; tangerine is a mandarin orange, not all mandarin oranges are tangerines. Clementines are the smallest and have a honey flavor, shiny skin, and are seedless. Satsuma Mandarins are often sold interchangeably with Clementines. Kumquats do not need to be peeled and are most often used in making marmalade, being candied or picked, and are even eaten whole.
The three varieties of grapefruit vary by color. Each is a hybrid of pomelo and orange, and they got their name because they grew in clusters. Some grapefruits are sweeter than others, but they all share the same bitter aftertaste. The two most common kinds are red and pink, with pink grapefruits being the most flavorful and suitable for both eating and juicing. They are cousins of Pomelos, the largest of the citrus kingdom.
Candied Oranges Upside Down Cake
This cake is surprisingly easy to make. The most crucial step is to make sure the oranges are cut really thinly and evenly.
1 cup sugar + 2/3 cups sugar
4 cardamom pods crushed or ½ teaspoon cardamom powder
2 oranges, thinly sliced
2 tsp orange zest
2 tbs orange juice
½ cup of olive oil
½ tsp teaspoon salt
1/8 tsp baking soda
½ baking powder
¾ cup plus 2 tbs all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
8-inch springform pan
Small pastry brush for oil
Preheat oven to 345F
Measure and cut a small circle from the parchment paper to cover the bottom of the baking pan
Brush the springform and the parchment paper with oil
Wash the oranges and with a sharp knife, cut them into precise 1/3 inch slices crosswise.
If some turn out too thick or are imperfect, do not use them. Save the ends for juice.
In a small, shallow saucepan, combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water and 2 crushed cardamom pods.
Cook on medium heat. The oranges will let the juice soon and will sink to the bottom of the saucepan.
Give the orange an occasional, gentle stir.
Squeeze the juice from the leftover ends and remaining pieces.
Cook only until soft. Do not overcook, as the oranges will fall apart.
Crush cardamom by hand or in a spice mill.
Grate orange zest.
Arrange cooked orange slices on the bottom and on the sides of the pan. (Practice makes perfect).
If your springform is leaking, place a baking sheet underneath it.
Beat egg, sugar, salt in the mixer until light and fluffy. Add olive oil, vanilla extract, orange zest, orange juice, cardamom powder, baking soda, and gently mix in all ingredients with a wooden spoon.
Pour the mixture into the baking pan gently over the oranges.
Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test with a skewer in the middle of the cake, which should come out clean.
Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes. Place a plate on the top of the baking pan and turn it upside down.
Gently peel the paper off the cake. For more luster, brush or drizzle with the remaining orange cardamom syrup on the top of the cake.
Adult Services Librarian
Kansas City KS Public Library
625 Minnesota Ave
Kansas City, KS 66101
Ortho All About Citrus & Subtropical Fruits by Ortho Books
Sicilia: A Love Letter to the Food of Sicily by Ben Tish
Book 641.5945 TISH
Gennaro’s Limoni: Vibrant Italian Recipes Celebrating the Lemon by Gennaro Contaldo