2014-03-07 / From The Garden

Tangy Citrus Hints at Spring

By Cynthia Gibson

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. This is the time of year that generous piles of citrus crowd the produce aisles. The “battle of the tiny orange” is on. The time-tested clementine still has its own distinctive box and label, but the same is true for the “cutie,” the “halo,” and “delites.” These child-sized selections fit nicely in the palm and are rather cute. They are sweet, easy to peel, and seedless.

Because we live in an area that truly experiences cold and snow, we receive boxes of oranges and grapefruit from friends in sunny Florida. However, for those not lucky enough to have pals living down South during the winter, never fear. Special citrus selections will soon be available, even in Rhode Island.

For the next couple of weeks, for example, we’ll enjoy a short opportunity to purchase Moro blood oranges, which are small and have a ruddy, red blush to the skin. Cut one open and you will be amazed at the vibrant color inside. Not only is the juice of this orange a beautiful mahogany red, but it also makes a magnificent margarita.

Bags of Moro blood oranges go quickly, so pick yours up this week. The major supermarkets carry these fabulous picks. They do not keep as well as navel oranges or tangerines, so ideally you should enjoy them within three days of purchase. Should you like their distinctive taste, you would be wise to buy several bags, juice them, and store the juice in freezer bags to relish later. If used within two months, the taste of the juice should be the same.

The Cara Cara orange is another interesting option, with a deep pink, rose-colored flesh. Like the blood orange, the Cara Cara has a unique look and makes a lovely orange salad.

A true delight of the citrus world that must be shipped to the buyer is the HoneyBell, one of the sweetest, juiciest oranges that exists. A HoneyBell is a cross between a Dancy tangerine and a Duncan grapefruit, making it a hybrid. What makes it especially desirable, like so many desirable things, is its limited availability. The orange is picked and shipped only during a three-week period every January.

I would still vote for a blood orange over a HoneyBell. The taste is not one that you will not soon forget.

Grapefruit is another cold weather favorite. Whether white, pink, or ruby red, grapefruit is loaded with vitamin C and fiber. They do have a hidden sweetness to them, so you may eventually find that they do not need sugar. However, with a sharp taste, grapefruit will certainly give you a jolt in the morning.

Oranges and their relatives provide many additional choices to satisfy your winter citrus cravings, such as mandarin oranges, tangerines, and tangelos (a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine). There is also the pummelo, popularly known as the “Chinese grapefruit,” which is less acidic and sweeter than the familiar variety.

For years, getting an orange in your Christmas stocking was an exotic surprise. Not only did it mean you were a good child, but it was a treat from a distant place with palm trees and orange groves.

Any way you slice it, citrus is good for you and provides a refreshing bit of sunshine on cloudy days. So it’s a good time to make a fresh citrus fruit salad or an orange tart. You could even throw a weekend party and welcome your guests with fresh margaritas.

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