Citrus Season

Oranges and orange juice, what would breakfast be without them? Browse the produce section of any grocery store today and you’ll certainly find oranges as a staple item available year-round. As a child it was traditional for mom to include an orange as part of our stocking loot at Christmas time. I once asked “why an orange?” It seemed like such a common item that I figured it was probably just an easy way of taking up a chunk of space. She then explained that when she was a child growing up in Nebraska during the 30’s & 40’s, oranges were only available around Christmas and were eagerly awaited, thus it was a treat! Oranges are such a part of our everyday existence it’s hard to believe that as recent as a hundred years ago they were still considered somewhat of a specialty item.

We might tend to take them more or less for granted today, but with so many varieties of citrus to be enjoyed, it’s a shame to simply relegate them to the juice glass or breakfast garnish. While various types of citrus are available year-round, December through March is really the peak season. Blood oranges and Meyer lemons are two of the more prominent specialty citrus that can be found in markets now through the end of March.

Cases of Citrus Fruit

Blood oranges get their gory name from their color which can vary from reddish-orange to maroon. Believed to be a spontaneous genetic mutation, they are native to the Mediterranean with domestic oranges being grown predominately in California (Florida is too humid for reliable production). The flavor is sweeter than a standard navel or Valencia orange and depending on variety, can often have raspberry or strawberry-like undertones of flavor. They produce a beautiful sanguine colored juice and make a striking addition to salads and tarts.

Meyer lemons are a cross between a sweet orange and a tart lemon and were introduced to the United States in 1908 by Frank Meyer who was an agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sweeter than a standard lemon, the Meyer has a thinner skin with golden yellow color. December through February is the height of the season but they can sometimes be found as late as March & April. Meyer lemons are often the darling of pastry chefs and are great for making curds and soufflés. When substituting Meyer lemon juice in dessert recipes it is usually best to decrease the sugar slightly. If a tart sour lemon flavor is preferred, the standard Eureka or Lisbon lemons are really the best.

Blood Orange & Meyer LemonTips for Selecting & Using Citrus Fruit:

  • Select fruit that is weighty and solid feeling for its size. Large fruit that isn’t very heavy is often likely to be dry and fibrous on the inside.
  • When shopping for limes, choose those which have more yellow coloration than green. Limes turn yellow as they ripen, thus a dark or intensely green lime will be less mature and juicy.
  • Terms such as “peel”, “rind” and “skin” refer to the white and the colored part of the exterior layer of citrus fruit. “Zest” refers to only the colored part of the peel which is where the oils are contained. Avoid grating and zesting into the bitter white “pith” which is the white layer under the zest.
  • Southeast Asian recipes will often call for Kaffir lime leaf which can usually only be found in asian stores. If Kaffir lime leaf isn’t available, lime zest can be added for a similar flavor.
  • To extend the lifespan of citrus fruit, refrigerate whole fruit (lemons & limes in particular) in self-sealing bags inside the produce drawer of the refrigerator.
  • Enjoy the flavor of Blood oranges and Meyer lemons year-round by freezing whole fruit in self-sealing bags. Once frozen and thawed, the fruit will yield more juice due to the expansion and bursting of interior cell walls.

6 Comments on “Citrus Season”

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  3. Wow! I did not know that about oranges and Christmas stockings. I often wondered the same as you, why oranges? Now, thanks to you, I have more of an appreciative understanding. Thank you for that.

    Every year I host a potluck dinner where everyone is asked to bring a Meyer lemon dish, from entrees to desserts. Everything has to have Meyer lemons in it. The dinner is great fun and I marvel at how creative my guests are with their dishes. I must admit, however, that I am running out of creative ideas for Meyer lemon dishes. Do you have any recommendations for Meyer lemon recipe books?


    1. Beverly,

      I’m afraid I don’t know of any cookbooks that are specifically focused on Meyer lemons. Your potluck sounds like a great idea however…have you thought of having your guests bring a copy of the recipe along to share? That way not only does everyone get to enjoy the item but they have the recipe to take home and prepare again in the future. Most citrus-oriented recipes could be used with Meyer Lemons, taking a bit of the sugar out if the original recipe uses standard lemons or limes. Sounds like you’ve already done a lot of playing around but that would be my best suggestion…keep playing!
      Happy Cooking!

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