Califonia Bountiful

Colorful orbs of citrus bring sunshine to winter

Jan./Feb. 2009 California Country magazine

From oranges to more unusual selections like Meyer lemons, citrus is our winter friend.

From oranges to more unusual selections like Meyer lemons, citrus is our winter friend. About half of the nation’s crop is grown in California. With harvest currently at its peak, the time is now to reacquaint yourself with old citrus friends—and make some new ones, too!

Oranges originated in Northwest India and Southwest China. Here, navels are today’s prevalent winter variety—sweet and seedless—while Cara Cara is an interesting pink-hued variety with a cherry-nuanced flavor. Enjoy tucked into a lunch bag or added to a fruit salad.

Blood oranges are also increasingly popular. Originating from Italy in the mid-1600s, this variety has red-blushed skin yielding to striking reddish flesh. It’s beautiful whether juiced or in salads, perhaps with thinly sliced fennel, walnuts and chopped parsley.

Two lesser-known sour oranges are the Seville, used for marmalade, and Bergamot. Bergamot resembles a small grapefruit, but is of uncertain parentage, perhaps a sweet lime/orange cross. The volatile oil from its skin is what flavors Earl Grey tea. Who knew?

Grapefruit is a relative newcomer. First written word dates to 1750, sighted growing in Barbados. The fruit tends to grow in clusters, thus the “grapefruit” moniker. Grapefruit deserves more respect. Beyond juicing, they make a refreshing sorbet or marmalade. Candy the peel for fruitcake, or cut, sprinkle with brown sugar and broil for a special breakfast or different dessert.

More unusual but gaining popularity are Meyer lemons, which have a high sugar content, deep yellow juice, lower acid and rich flavor. Purported to be a lemon/mandarin hybrid, they were brought from China in the early 1900s by a fellow named Frank Meyer. Beyond making lemonade or flavoring a hot toddy, pull out your favorite lemon meringue pie recipe.

Make room for Clementines, Page and Satsuma mandarins. While small in size, they are huge on flavor. In the tangerine vein, Honey types are super sweet and bursting with juice—well worth putting up with the many seeds. Enjoy as a snack or add the zest and/or juice to marinades.

One of my very favorite citrus is the Minneola tangelo—a grapefruit/Mandarin cross. They possess a rich, robust flavor. And because they’re easy to peel and virtually seedless, they’re a delight eaten out of hand or cut for a fruit salad.

Andy Powning is a produce specialist with GreenLeaf, a San Francisco-based produce company. Send questions or comments to him at

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