Winter Sunshine

Be savvy with citrus.

| November/December 2004

Ever spend an entire day, week or season wishing the sun would shine? When the dark days of winter descend, you don’t have to suffer and sulk. One of the simplest ways to satisfy your craving for winter sunshine is to stock up on the season’s freshest citrus fruits.

Beyond O.J.

Don’t stop at orange juice! Resolve to expand your repertoire. Explore new ways to flavor fish, add pizzazz to poultry, vitalize cooked vegetables, add sizzle to salads, freshen fruits and make delicious drinks with the zest and juice of citrus fruits. Cut fat calories and add flair to your daily fare with fresh lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines, tangelos and grapefruits. (Oranges, tangerines, tangelos and their juices can be used interchangeably in most recipes.)

Fresh is Best

For the most satisfying experience, seek out freshly picked citrus fruits that matured on the tree. Fruit that spent time in a warehouse may have been washed with detergents, de-greened with ethylene gas to bring on an artificial yellow-orange color in immature flesh, coated with orange dye, and/or treated with antibacterial compounds to discourage spoilage and create an extra-long shelf life. To unhook from the mass-market food system and reconnect with Mother Nature, purchase from small regional growers who use only fresh water to clean their fruit before packaging, pick mature tree-ripened fruit grown without pesticides and ship fruit within 24 hours of it coming off the tree. Going local and organic will allow you to experience extraordinary citrus flavor, advises Bob McClendon of McClendon’s Select Citrus in Peoria, Arizona.

If you live in one the citrus belts — ­­Arizona, California, Florida or Texas — ­­check your local farmer’s markets for a home-based citrus grower. Otherwise, consider ordering a box of sunshine from the closest citrus state (see “Mail-Order Citrus Sources” on Page 51). Freshly shipped citrus fruit, free of preservatives, should be refrigerated on arrival and used within two to three weeks.

Extra fruit may be juiced and frozen for up to two years to savor in all four seasons. Juice by hand or use a citrus juicer — a handy, inexpensive gadget. Allow for expansion during freezing by filling containers only 80 percent full and leaving the lid loose or off until the juice has fully frozen.

Use the Zest Along with the Rest

Before you juice, rinse the fruit, pat dry, and remove the zest (colored part only; the white part imparts a bitter taste) with a microplane grater. Add zest to ice-cube trays and top with fresh juice from the same fruit. Freeze, then transfer the cubes to larger containers and date, then add to drinks or defrost for your favorite recipe. Alternatively, freeze the zest in tablespoon-size portions, enveloped in small squares of parchment paper and stacked in a sealable bag or pint canning jar. Add fresh or frozen citrus juice and/or zest to muffin, pancake, waffle and quick bread batters, cooked fruit compotes, chutney, relish, jam, jelly, pudding or dips, or use fresh zest to garnish cooked fish in a rich sauce. No matter how you slice it, the culinary contribution of freshly picked (or frozen) citrus fruits will brighten your days and lighten your meals.

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