It's citrus season, or what I like to call “the season of sunshine.”
After some bitter cold days and gray winter skies, it's mighty welcome. Bright hues of yellow, orange and green are sure to brighten our dining pleasure as we glide through a few more weeks of winter. Citrus also brings a nutritional boost with an abundance of antioxidants and immunity-building vitamin C.
Kumquats, limes, tangelos, pummelos, tangerines, Ugli fruit, lemons, oranges and grapefruit are brightening the produce aisles at area markets. They are loaded with juice and the piquant, perky tart sweet taste only citrus fruits can provide.
Each fruit holds distinguishing traits. More seeds or less, skin color, peel-ability, sweetness and juiciness make some varieties of limes, lemons and oranges standouts among their cousins. My “must try” list grows as availability expands around us.
This year I have been charmed by the beautiful floral scent of sweet limes. I discovered them first at the Mediterranean Market on North May as I watched a young child hold one to his nose. He was obviously enchanted by the aroma of these pale yellow round fruits. First glance might have you thinking it was a lemon, perhaps even a Meyer lemon. I had to check it out after that youngster persuaded his mother to put several in their shopping basket.
The intoxicating scent of the sweet limes was overwhelming. I couldn't wait to make a version of limeade, which was satisfying even without a spoonful of sugar. So was chomping into the flesh of the sweet lime. A few weeks later I bought more at Whole Foods.
Meyer lemons also are high on my “gotta try 'em” citrus list. These bright, smooth-skinned beauties are not like the usual lemons. They are sweeter, less tart and yet still pack that unmistakable lemon flavor. There is much less of the white pithy membrane layer between the skin and flesh of the lemon. I started buying them in October, but they are at their best now. Use them as you would other lemons.
By now you have surely sampled those red-fleshed blood oranges. Their skin is a darker orange, often tinged with red, somewhat like clouds in a sunset. This fruit has a sweet orange flavor with a tiny hint of grapefruit. They are beautiful in salads paired with an assortment of other fruits.
Pummelos look like giant grapefruit, but the inside is heavier on pitch and milder in its tartness. Ugli fruit is a hybrid from Jamaica. This hideous-looking, almost gourdlike, fruit has a lovely pale yellow interior. Ugli fruit is the result of hybridization between pummelo, orange and tangerine. Don't be fooled by the harsh exterior.
Citrus fruits can be stored for several weeks in the refrigerator, but they have a much shorter storage time when left at room temperature. For juicing a single lemon or lime, a reamer is a great tool. When needing juice and zest from citrus fruits, it's essential to zest first, capturing only the outer part of skin as the layer of white membrane is often bitter or flavorless.
Make the most of citrus at its peak of season best.