Food Friday: Oranges and Citrus Fruits

10 12 2010

It’s the beginning of citrus season, one of the South’s favorite fruits. I remember the first time I had a clementine or a kumquat, or my first glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. These are just not epicurean moments you forget easily.

I once asked Mr. SIT if he were a type of food, which type would he be. It was a silly question, but without a beat, he answered, “An orange. Because they are bright, sturdy, and good for you. Everyone likes them. And, it’s orange — like Tennessee.”

Despite my disdain for the University of Tennessee, I had to laugh. He’s correct in his choice of fruit that sums him up — they are bright, good for you, and I’ve never once met anyone who doesn’t like a juicy, sweet, tart orange.

I always think of oranges in the winter. I enjoy a little more juice, for the vitamin C to ward off those inevitable colds, and I always expect a perfectly ripe fruit in my stocking, from Mamaw.

So, let’s talk a little about citrus today, shall we?

Oranges

  • There are three types of oranges — sweet, bitter, and loose-skinned.  Sweet oranges are usually large. Popular varieties include the navel, Valencia, and blood orange. Bitter oranges are typically used in marmalades, and a usually too sour to be consumed raw. Loose-skinned oranges have segments that divide easily. Mandarin oranges are an example of these types, as well as the tangerine and clementine.
  • Avoid any with spongy spots, but a brown area, or a portion that’s rough or green doesn’t affect flavor. (Oftentimes, the oranges you’re purchasing at the grocery market are dyed with food coloring anyway, so color isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.)
  • Buy individual oranges, rather than a bag, as you can’t always see the surface of every orange included. One moldy orange in the bag can deteriorate the whole lot.
  • Oranges can last up to 2 weeks if refrigerated, and at room temperature for several days.
  • One pound is about three medium oranges, or about 1 cup of juice.
  • If you’re looking to get some extra vitamin C, all forms of the juice (frozen, pasteurized, or fresh) contain the same proportion. The juice retains 90% of its “C” for a week if you store it in the fridge, up to a year in the freezer.
  • The orange blossom is the state flower of Florida, and considered a sign of happiness in Spanish cultures. Often brides carry orange blossoms down the aisle (I did, to honor my husband’s Spanish heritage). And if cared for properly, orange trees make a beautiful addition to any home — indoors or out!

Citrus

  • Choose fruits that are firm and heavy.
  • Juicing at room temperature produces more juice than refrigerated fruit. Roll citrus with the palm of your hand on the countertop and prick the skin in several places with a fork before squeezing to maximize your juice yield.
  • To keep those seeds out, place your halved fruit in a paper towel and squeeze the juice through.
  • Before you zest, wash the peel thoroughly.
  • If you don’t have a zester, use a vegetable peeler. (Or, in a pinch, I’ve used my finest cheese grater.)
  • Before squeezing the juice, use a zester to remove the peel. Freeze the zest for up to 6 months to use in recipes that call for a little zest, or almost any of your savory dishes will benefit from the complexity of flavor a little citrus essence would add. Even desserts and beverages like a little zest! And fresh zest is so much better than what you buy at the store.
  • If you’re planning on zesting and juicing, zest first, then juice. It’s easier. Zest diagonally, rather than up and down.
  • Here’s a trick for you: cover your grater with saran wrap and the zest will cling to the wrap when removed.
  • Citrus fruits are delicious by themselves, but sectioned fruits are great garnishes, as well as great in salads or desserts. (Remove that bitter pith — the white stuff that no one likes — with a knife.)
  • Scoop the flesh from an orange or grapefruit half and use the shells as “bowls” for fruit salad or a dessert compote. Served with a scoop of whip cream would be heaven. Even a delicious sherbet ice cream would be yummy in a lemon “bowl.”

Orange blossom honey would make a gorgeous gift for Christmas, or just drizzle some over your morning toast for yourself! If you need a lighter, pretend-it’s healthy, elegant dessert, I have plans to make these candy orange peels very soon. (I have to read this blog every day.) On a side note, If you ever get the chance, ride the “Soarin'” ride at Disney. You’ve never in your life smelled such glorious smells until you soar over the orange grove, and the faintest whiff of freshly growing oranges spritzes down lightly.

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