Winter is here! You know what that means … it’s citrus season! While in North Tahoe it doesn’t feel like it’s the time of year for the tangy sweetness of tree fruits like oranges and grapefruit, the winter months give to us some of the best flavors warmer climes have to offer.
“January brings many citrus varieties that we are so lucky to be able to enjoy even when we are buried with snow,” explained Tahoe Food Hub’s program director, Marissa Yakaitis. “Much of these fruits are grown just down the hill and there’s nothing like a juicy orange after a long day on the slopes.”
Although some fruits like bananas and peaches will ripen after being plucked from a tree, citrus does not, so it is harvested at peak ripeness. When it comes to citrus, a weightier fruit is a juicier fruit because the heavier an orange or grapefruit is, the higher its water content is. Juicier doesn’t always mean sweeter, however. Early season varieties tend to be a little less sweet than later varieties since the latter were likely left on the tree a little longer.
There are over 100 different varieties of citrus fruits like lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges. Believed to be native to the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, they are now cultivated in similar climates around the world. Citrus fruits are in season from December through April and with their thick, protective rind, can be stored for long periods at cold temperatures.
“The star of the January citrus show is the blood orange,” Yakitis said. “There are several varieties of blood oranges that provide a sliding scale of sweetness.”
Blood oranges, in particular, are native to Spain and Italy and thrive in the Mediterranean-like climate of California. They are less acidic and slightly sweeter than other oranges. There are three varieties — Moro, Tarocco, and Sanguinello — with the Moro being the most common variety grown in California. While blood oranges, in general, have a deeper colored flesh inside, the distinct rich burgundy hue of the Moro is easily recognizable. It also holds more antioxidants than any variety and combats cancer-causing free radicals in the body, notes Yakaitis.
The Tarocco has less color but is sweetest in flavor. It is usually the first variety available during citrus season. Sanuinelli blood oranges, which are smaller in size with a tarter flavor profile, are the last in line to ripen.
“While every variety is a tasty snack on its own, there are many other ways to make the most of this lovely fruit in both sweet and savory applications, depending on the variety,” Yakaitis said. “Using its fresh juice in cocktails is a no-brainer, but have you ever tried a blood orange vinaigrette?”
She shared with Moonshine her quick and easy (just the way we like to cook!) recipe for a flavorful vinaigrette to jazz up your next salad. But don’t stop there, chunks of blood oranges are a perfect addition to your plate of fresh greens, adding both flavor and nutrients.
Tangy Blood Orange Vin:
Juice and zest of one blood orange
2 Tbs mustard (Dijon or whole grain is best)
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar or Sherry vinegar (really anything but balsamic would work)
2/3 cup olive oil (Tahoe Food Hub suggests local Sierra Foothill oils such as from Towani Organic Farm)