Enjoying Citrus Fruits
Citrus is a broad category of sweet, sour, and bitter tasting fruits. Though not local, citrus in all varieties are in season right now. Citrus fruits travel well, and are a delicious option for fresh eating fruits during winter.
Citrus fruits are picked ripe and juicy, and are fresh right now. They can last a month in your fridge, and are grown in the US. It’s easy to buy a lot right now and preserve the freshness in the freezer for all year long.
What Citrus Fruits Taste Like
There are a lot of types of citrus out there. Citrus fruits are usually sour, while some are sweeter or more bitter than others. The citric acid in citrus fruits makes them sour, while the ascorbic acid in citrus fruits gives them vitamin C.
Lemons are the most sour, grapefruits have a bitter note, and oranges and limes are usually sweeter. Many citrus fruits are juicy, and are used in making juices. The skin, or zest, of many citrus fruits is also used as a flavoring.
Citrus is great fresh, in baked dishes, as sauces and marinades, and as juice. You can make marmalade, add citrus fresh or dried to drinks, and add them to salads.
Growing Citrus Fruit
Most citrus trees are tropical, meaning they don’t grow outdoors here in Maryland. Citrus fruit needs some cold to ripen, but we get too much cold for most varieties.
Mandarin oranges are among the hardiest of the citrus fruits, and can handle short periods of 14F temperatures. Normally, citrus prefers 28F temps and above.
Most US grown citrus comes from Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas. Florida grows a lot of grapefruit, but also oranges and tangerines. California produces 24 percent of our oranges. Arizona grows lemons, oranges, grapefruits and tangerines. Texas produces both grapefruit and oranges.
Here in Maryland, you can grow citrus as long as you bring them indoors in the winter. Pongs Orchard, in Fulton, sells citrus trees and will teach you how to grow them yourself in Maryland.
If you want to grow your own citrus trees, look for small varieties. During the winter, give them extra light inside. Don’t overwater them!
Citrus season runs throughout the winter, into the early spring. Different oranges will become available as the winter wears on.
You will see the kid friendly clementines from December throughout the winter. Tangerines and mandarins will be available. Grapefruits come on around January. Lemons are best in winter and spring as well.
Some citrus fruits will be available all winter, while some have shorter seasons.
Types of Citrus Fruits
Though all citrus stems from citron, mandarin, and pomelo parents, the incestuous citrus family tree has given us a huge variety of citrus fruits to choose from.
Oranges range from larger navel oranges, to tiny thin-skinned clementines, to reddish blood oranges. Some varieties are easier to peel, some are better for juicing, and some have berry flavors to them. Oranges are sweeter citrus fruits.
Some oranges are bred for peels, not juice. Bitter oranges are used to flavor liqueurs. Other unpalatable oranges work well with lots of sugar to make marmalade. Some are used to flavor tea.
Lemons are the sourest of the citrus fruits. Lemon zest (the peel) adds flavor to foods. One of the strangest citrus fruits, the Buddha’s hand, is a lemon.
Limes are sweeter than lemons, but are still quite tart. They are used as juice and in sauces. Lime leaves are used in Thai cuisine.
Grapefruits can be white, yellow, or red. They have bitter notes to them, and are eaten fresh or as juice. They are a mix of pomelo and oranges. Pomelos are much bigger, but have the same amount of flesh, surrounded by a thick pith.
You may also find kumquats, ugli fruit, or yuzu in some grocery stores. They aren’t as common in US stores.
Storing Citrus Fruits
Citrus lasts a long time in the fridge. Most will last up to a month, some to six weeks.
If you want to preserve citrus for longer, they are easy to freeze in different ways. The easiest is to freeze your citrus whole. Thawed, they are easier to zest and juice.
You can also cut up your citrus into sections for freezing, or just freeze the juice. Save money by buying a lot of citrus at once, and freezing the extra for “fresh” citrus later.
Marmalade is a great way to keep citrus flavors for later. Dried citrus slices can be used in drinks later, or added to flavor baked goods. You can also make fruit leather with your citrus.
Citrus fruits are great fresh, of course, but there are also plenty of ways to cook with them as well. Desserts are an easy option, but don’t forget savory options as well.
Homemade lemon curd is delicious as a filling, topping, or spread. Try different types of citrus to decide which one you like best!
Citrus pairs well with salads. During winter, make this Citrus Roasted Beet Salad with seasonal citrus and local beets.
Limes go great in guacamole, squeezed over fish, and also in this Lime Shrimp Dragon Noodle recipe.
Did you Know?
Oranges in warm locations are green rather than orange. The green color protects the fruit from too much sun, and orange skin may turn green again if it is too warm. Green skin does not mean the orange isn’t mature or delicious.
Scurvy is the result of not having enough vitamin C in the body. Sailors used to get scurvy before they made the connection between citrus and scurvy. You need vitamin C for collagen production and iron absorption. We can’t make it ourselves, so we must consume it.
Though citrus is not local to Maryland, it is available now. Buying US grown citrus now, especially from Florida, is the best way to enjoy citrus that is grown seasonally and as locally as you can find it.