From my Petaluma Post column:
In my mind January is probably the darkest month of the year, the holidays are put away, the days are short, the rain and maybe even snow are coming down. You know that you have eaten too much. How can we brighten these days? How about a bright ray of culinary sunshine - citrus!
Funny to think that the brightest color crop of the year comes ripe at the darkest time of the year. From lemons to grapefruits and tangerines, citrus can bring a bright flavor and healthy touch to your diet.
Right off the bat in January we start with Meyer lemons being in season. As you drive around town you will see lemon bushes overflowing with fruit, most likely in our area they are Meyer lemons. A hearty plant that can be grown well in both the ground and wine barrels (it does need to be covered from frost). It is my favorite of the citrus world. Thought to be a cross between a lemon and tangerine coming originally from china. With a thin skin and sweeter juice and flesh it makes it a great cooking candidate. One of my favorite recipes is Meyer lemon marmalade. A great way to put it away to use year round.
3 lbs Meyer lemons
3 cups sugar
Wash then lemons well, then juice them, and put the juice aside. Then cut the remains in to 4 pieces and remove seeds (they have lots of seeds). Next, thinly slice the quarters, including the interior. Bring 8 cups of water to a boil and blanch the lemons for 1 minute; this will remove any bitterness from the skins. Drain and place in a heavy bottom pot, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved, then turn down the heat to a simmer - watch carefully so you don’t burn it - simmer approx. 30 minutes until the rinds are tender. Place in five ½ pint jars - can or freeze.
Serve on Chèvre with Crackers - Wow!
Another citrus that comes out the first of February is blood oranges. Very popular in the southern areas of Europe, it has an added health benefit of anthocyanin, an anti-oxidant. The red flesh with just a bit bitter is a great mixer for cocktails. Try using it to brighten up your next Brunch or party. Great in a mimosa, wonderful for Blood Orange Margaritas, although my favorite is in an Gin and Tonic with Blood Orange.
Clementines are just a handful of joy. Their perfect size and loose skin make them a great grab and go snack. This relative of the tangerine is seedless. Keep a bowl on the counter for healthy between meal snacks. Or peel and add to a salad for a bright touch of flavor. A squeeze on a piece of fish is a great use too
But what are Mandarin Oranges you ask? Clementines, Tangerines, and Satsumas are all varieties of the mandarin orange. Nutritionally and in flavor they are very similar. Satsumas are typically the easiest to peel; the fruit is almost entirely detached inside the skin, making them a very convenient snack. However Clementines are almost as easy to peel and they are also seedless, which I really appreciate. These are the ones often labeled as “Cuties” in the grocery store. So why bother with a Tangerine? If you want the full orange experience, with that little puff of orange oil when you break the skin, and the reward of well peeled orange, then this is the way to go.
Ruby Red grapefruit is an all-time favorite too (I have lots of favorites when it comes to citrus). I remember my grandmother every morning having a half of grapefruit with just a little sprinkle of salt to bring out the sweetness. High in potassium and vitamin C, and can help to lower Cholesterol. With a very thick skin and bitter membrane, it is best to eat just the pulp or juice of this fruit. Chefs often refer to cutting out of each segment as a supreme. In the winter months when local crab is in season, one of our favorite dishes is a Crab, Avocado and Grapefruit Cocktail.
Crab, Avocado and Grapefruit Cocktail
2 oz local crab meat
4-5 grapefruit segments
½ avocado, diced
Layer in a Martini glass - a great start to any dinner party.
Citrus can brighten any day with flavor and flair. Try something new today.