Along with ringing in the start of a New Year, where we shift away from the indulgences of the holidays and once again embrace healthier eating, January also brings a whole host of bright, juicy citrus fruit which are overflowing at farmers’ markets stands and produce bins. Many of you already know how much I adore lemons, Meyer Lemons to be exact, but what you may not know is that oranges come in a very close second. Since they’re available year-round, it’s sometimes forgotten that these bitter-sweet orbs are at their pinnacle of flavor for the next month or so. There are a few special varieties definitely worth searching for that are drip-down-your-hands delicious and only available right now. Once you start to explore these other varieties, you’ll be hooked. You may even find yourself thumbing through every cookbook on your shelf just itching for an excuse to cook or bake with oranges. I know I do!
California Naval Oranges: Readily available any month of the year here in California, their peak season is January-March. They’re also the variety you’ll most likely consume out of the jug alongside your morning cereal. Their thick skin and high concentration of limonin (a bitter, white, crystalline substance found in citrus) makes these guys ideal for commercial juicing or just peeling and eating.
Cara Cara Orange: Hands down, my favorite orange. Also known as ‘Red Navel’ due to its glorious ruby pink flesh, these beauties are ridiculously juicy with a sweet orange flavor laced with notes of cherry and rose petals. Part of the common Naval Orange family, this hybrid variety was first discovered at the Hacienda Cara Cara in Valencia, Venezuela in 1976 and are in-season here in California from late November through late March.
Blood Oranges: Given the name because of their crimson blush on the outer rind and the sweet, blood-red flesh and juice inside. They’re not well-suited to commercial juicing (due to their low acidity levels) so just plan on peeling and eating, slicing for a citrus salad or use a hand reamer to juice them for cocktails. A hybrid originally cultivated in Sicily, the Moro variety is widely available in California and best enjoyed at the peak of its season December through early April.
Mandarin: Smaller and squattier than its offspring above, the Mandarin or Robson is an original member of the citrus family and is thought to be the parent of the Common Orange. Scientists believe the Mandarin, the Citron, the Pomelo and the Papeda are the ancestors to all other citrus varieties. Mandarins are the only sweet fruit among the parental species, and their easy-to-peel skin makes them ideal for snacking or canning. Hey, I happen to love canned mandarins on cottage cheese!
Minneola Tangelo: Although this looks like an orange, it’s actually a hybrid cross between a Pomelo (grapefruit) and a Tangerine. First cultivated in Minneola, Florida in 1931 (hence its name), this bell-shaped citrus fruit is higher on the tartness scale than oranges. The flesh is juicy, and the mild, sweet tangerine flavor makes this one a great base for citrus vinaigrettes, seafood marinades or cocktail mixes. Look for it from December-February with its peak season in January.
Cooking with Citrus Oils
Citrus-infused olive oils are a great way to carry the lovely scent and flavor of orange through all of your marinades, salad dressings, steamed vegetables and more. They also can be used in baking too like in this yummy Orange, Semolina, and Olive Oil Cake. Look for the delicious Blood Orange and Clementine Olive Oil from Sonoma’s local olive mill, The Olive Press. They crush the organic fruit with the olives to completely infuse the essential oils from the citrus rinds into the cold pressed oil. They also have a wonderful Citrus Oil Sampler Pack featuring four of their organic citrus-infused oils if you want to experiment with lemon and lime flavors too. For more information on their oils, olive mill tours and retail store, visit theolivepress.com.*
*Not a sponsored post, just sharing some of my favorite finds as always. :>)