Spring + citrus are synonymous to me. The bright colors of the fruit coupled with the wonderful flavors and scents speak of freshness like nothing else. Living in San Francisco, I try not to take for granted my access to the amazing selection that I find in even the smallest corner store. However, having lived in other parts of the United States and Europe, I am aware that access is certainly not equal or consistent, and that being the case, I thought I’d take the opportunity to learn about the vast variety of citrus that exists.
Such amazing selections exist with so many names, that I wondered if some of the names referred to the same fruit, or were there really that many varieties. I’ve found the answer to be a bit of both.
Citrus fruits have been cultivated in Sicily since time immemorial. While Arabs are credited with originally planting lemons and bitter oranges in Sicily, the Genovese and Portuguese crusaders introduced the sweet variety of orange, Portogallo, in the 15th century.
Citrus fruits are notable for their fragrance, partly due to flavonoids and limonoids contained in the rind, and most are juice-laden. The juice contains citric acid giving them their characteristic sharp flavour. They are also good sources of vitamin C and flavonoids.
The color of citrus fruits only develops in climates with a cool winter. In tropical regions with no winter, citrus fruits remain green until maturity, hence the tropical “green oranges”. The Persian Lime is particularly sensitive to cool conditions, thus it is not usually exposed to cool enough conditions to develop a mature color. If they are left in a cool place over winter, the fruits changes color to yellow.
Note that while the terms “ripe” and “mature” are often used synonymously, they actually mean different things. A mature fruit has completed its growth phase. Ripening describes the changes that occur in the fruit from the time it reaches maturity to the start of decay. These changes usually involve starches converting to sugars, a decrease in acids, a softening and change in the fruit’s color.
Citrus does not go through a ripening process like pears, which continue ripening after being picked. Citrus passes from immaturity to maturity to over-maturity while still on the tree. Once they are separated from the tree, they will not increase in sweetness or continue to ripen, they will only decay.
Brazil, China, the United States, Mexico, Italy and India are the world’s largest citrus-producing countries. Brazil, the US, and Mexico lead the world in orange production, while China produces most of the world’s mandarins, and India is the world’s largest producer of lemons and limes.
Citrons are fragrant fruits with with similar names in diverse languages, e.g. cederat, cedro, etc. Most confusing are the Czech, French, Dutch, German, Yiddish and Scandinavian languages, in which “citron” refers to the fruit which English speakers call lemon. The French name for citron is cédrat. The citron, unlike the more common lemons and oranges, has a dry pulp with little juice. The color varies from green, when unripe, to a yellow-orange when overripe.
From ancient through medieval times, the citron was used mainly for medical purposes combating seasickness, pulmonary troubles, intestinal ailments, and other disorders. The essential oil of the flavedo was regarded as an antibiotic. Citron juice mixed with wine was considered an effective antidote to poison. Jews use citron for a religious ritual during the Feast of Tabernacles called Etrog, and citron is considered as a Jewish symbol, and is found on various Hebrew antiques and archaeological findings. The citron is mentioned in the Torah for the ritual use during the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40), and it is believed that the Jews brought it along on their exodus from Egypt. Some folks even speculate that citron was the forbidden fruit in Eden.
In Iran, citron’s thick white rind is used in jams. In South Indian cuisine, especially Tamil cuisine, citron is widely used in pickles and preserves. In Tamil, the unripe fruit is referred to as narthangai, which is usually salted and dried to make a preserve. The tender leaves of the plant are often used with chili powder and other spices to make a powder, called narthellai podi, literally “‘powder of citron leaves’.
Koreans use citron or yuzu (called yuja in Korean) to make Yujacha, a type of Korean tea (유자차; also spelled yujacha or yuja-cha, cha meaning “tea” in Korean). The fruit is thinly sliced (peel, pith and pulp) and soaked or cooked in honey or sugar to create a chunky syrup. This syrupy candied fruit is mixed with hot water as a fragrant tea, where the fruit at the bottom of the cup is eaten as well. A tablespoon of this syrup (which can either be made at home or purchased in glass jars) stirred into a cup of hot water makes a beverage called yujachaor, which is used as a herbal remedy for the common cold and similar winter illnesses. You can buy this tea, which reminds me of a marmalade in most Asian markets, where it comes in a good sized glass jar, and it works equally well on toast. A chef, I know likes to add a dollop of this tea to top her desserts. Yujacha is served as a source of fruit in winter. It is also popular in Taiwan, where it is known by its Chinese name 柚子茶 (Pinyin: Youzi cha).
Some citron varieties are also very distinct and highly appreciated by the Jewish community. A fingered citron variety called Buddha’s Hand, can be found in some markets (Whole Foods, Wegmans in the US at a pretty penny).
The citron tree has almost no dormancy, blooms several times a year, and therefore is fragile and extremely sensitive. The farmers graft it onto foreign rootstock, however since Jewish law forbids this practice, the progeny arel not kosher for the Jewish ritual. Despite the variation among the cultivars, authorities agree that the citron species is very old, and the purest of the citrus fruits, since it is usually self pollinated and hardly accepts foreign pollen.
The citron is believed to be native to the portion of India bordering Burma, where it is found in valleys at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains, and in the Western Ghauts. Many mention Alexander the Great and his armies, as responsible for spreading the citron westward, reaching the European countries of Greece and Italy. The citron has been cultivated since ancient times, predating other citrus species. Unlike its lack of popularity in contemporary times, in antiquity it played a leading role as described in numerous writings over the centuries. Based on these writings, it is assumed citron fell from favor, as most of its benefits could be found in the lemon which are easier to cultivate.
The origin of the lemon remains a mystery, though it is presumed that lemons first grew in India, northern Burma, and China. In parts of Asia, it was an antidote for various poisons, and an antiseptic. It was later introduced to Persia, followed by Iraq and Egypt. The lemon was first recorded in literature in a tenth century Arabic treatise on farming, and used as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens. Lemons entered Europe (near southern Italy), during Ancient Rome times, but were not widely cultivated until the middle of the fifteenth century in Genoa. Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds along his voyages, and introduced them to America. In 1700s and late 1800s, lemons were increasingly planted in Florida and California when lemons were used in cooking and flavoring.
Common Uses or Good Trivia
The average lemon contains approximately 3 tablespoons of juice, and allowing lemons to come to room temperature before squeezing (or heating briefly in a microwave) makes the juice easier to extract. Fish are marinated in lemon juice to neutralize the odor. The acid neutralizes the amines in fish by converting them into nonvolatile ammonium salts.
Lemon juice is used to marinate meat before cooking: the acid provided by the juice partially hydrolyzes the tough collagen fibers in the meat (tenderizing the meat).
When lemon juice is sprinkled on certain foods that tend to oxidize and turn brown after being sliced, such as apples, bananas and avocados, it acts as a short-term preservative by denaturing the enzymes causing the browning.
- Citric acid – Lemons were the primary commercial source of this substance prior to fermentation-based processes.
- Lemon battery – A popular science experiment in schools involves attaching electrodes to a lemon and using it as a battery to power a light.
- Sanitary kitchen deodorizer – deodorizes, removes grease, bleaches stains, and disinfects; when mixed with baking soda, lemon can remove stains from plastic food storage containers.
- Insecticide – The d-limonene in lemon oil is used as a non-toxic insecticide treatment.
- Antibacterial uses because it has a low pH, i.e. its acidic.
- Aromatherapy – Researchers at Ohio State University reveals that lemon oil aroma relaxes you.
- A halved lemon dipped in salt or baking powder brightens copper cookware – the acid cuts through the tarnish and the abrasives assist the cleaning. Trust me this one works – it is a great science experiment and activity for kids. The kids are entertained, they learn something new, and you end up with shiny copper pots.
Limes refer to a variety of fruits, which are typically round, green to yellow in color, generally containing bitter pulp, and frequently associated with the lemon. Limes are often used to accent the flavors of foods and beverages. They are usually smaller than lemons, and a good source of vitamin C. Limes are available all year round and are tarter than lemons.
Native to Southeast Asia, lime moved on through the Middle East to North Africa to Sicily and Andalusia and via Spanish explorers to the West Indies and the Florida Keys. From the Caribbean, lime cultivation spread to tropical and sub-tropical North America, including Mexico, Florida, and later California. The English word “lime” was derived, via Spanish then French, from the Arabic word ليمة līma (Persian لیمو Limu).
In cooking, limes are valued both for the acidic juice and the floral aroma of its zest. It is a very common ingredient in authentic Mexican, Southwestern United States and Thai dishes. It is called for in cerviche because of its pickling properties. The use of dried limes (called black lime or loomi) as a flavouring is typical of Persian cuisine and Iraqi cuisine, as well as in Gulf-style baharat (a spice mixture that is also called kabsa or kebsa). Limes are also an essential element in Tamil cuisine. Lime leaves are also a herb in South, East, and particularly Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, people have boiled chicken with lime leaves and a mixture of salt, black pepper and lime juice.
In order to prevent scurvy during the 19th century, British sailors were issued a daily allowance of citrus such as lime (presumably Citrus aurantifolia, which led in time to the nickname “limey” for all Britons. It was later discovered that this beneficial effect derived from the quantities of Vitamin C the fruit contains.
Lime extracts and essential oils are frequently used in perfumes, cleaning products, and aromatherapy.
The Key lime is a citrus species that is actually yellow when ripe but usually picked green for commercial purposes. It is smaller, seedier, higher acidity, stronger aroma, and a thinner rind than the Persian lime. It is valued for its unique flavor compared to other limes, with the key lime usually having a more tart and bitter flavor. The name comes from its association with the Florida Keys, where it is best known as the flavoring ingredient in Key lime pie, but it is also known as West Indian lime, Bartender’s lime, Omani lime, Tahitian lime or Mexican lime. “Key” was added some time after the Persian lime cultivar gained prominence commercially in the United States following the 1926 Miami hurricane, which destroyed the bulk of US C. aurantifolia agriculture, leaving it to grow mostly casually in the Florida Keys. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect, many Key limes on the US market are grown in Mexico and Central America, in addition to Texas and California.
These yummy bite size bits of bliss came from China (they are noted in literature dating to the 12th century), and have long been cultivated in Japan. They were introduced to Europe in 1846, and shortly thereafter into North America. Apparently there was confusion as to what genus they belonged to, originally placed in the genus Citrus, they were transferred to the genus Fortunella in 1915, and returned to citrus by subsequent work.
Kumquats readily hybridise with other members of citrus and the closely related Poncirus. These hybrids are known as Citrofortunella; examples include the limequat, orangequat, and calamondin.
In appearance the kumquat fruit (or simply “kumquat”) resembles a miniature oval orange. Depending on variety, peel colour ranges from yellow to red. A Nagami kumquat has an oval shape, while a Marumi kumquat is round. Kumquats are generally in season from late autumn to mid-winter, and can be found in most US food markets along side other produce. They can taste very sour, like a very acidic orange, but I’ve had some relatively sweet ones off a friend’s tree.
Kumquats are cultivated in China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Japan, the Middle East, Europe (notably Corfu, Greece), and the southern United States (notably Florida and California).
They are much hardier; growing in far colder environments than their citrus brethren. The trees differ also from other citrus in that they enter into a winter dormancy so profound that they will remain through several weeks of subsequent warm weather without putting out new shoots or blossoms. Despite their ability to survive low temperatures, the kumquat trees grow better and produce larger and sweeter fruits in warmer regions.
Kumquats are eaten raw most of the time. As the rind is sweet and the juicy center is tart, the raw fruit is usually consumed either whole, to savour the contrast, or only the rind is eaten. (I’ve only eaten the entire fruit, it never occurred to me to consume only the rind). The fruit is ripe when it reaches a yellowish-orange stage, with no tint of green. Other culinary uses are vast and include: candying, preserves, marmalade, and jelly. They can also be sliced and added to salads. A liqueur can also be made by macerating kumquats in vodka or other clear spirit.
The Cantonese preserve kumquats in salt or sugar. A batch of the fruit is buried in dry salt inside a glass jar. Over time, all the juice from the fruit is extracted through dehydration into the salt. The fruit shrinks and wrinkles in the jar, turning dark brown in colour. The salt combines with the juice to become a dark brown brine. A few salted kumquats with a few teaspoons of the brine/juice can be mixed with hot water as a remedy for sore throats.
In Taiwan, kumquats are a popular addition to both hot and iced tea.
In Vietnam, kumquat bonsai trees are used as a decoration for the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday. Kumquat fruits are also boiled or dried to make a candied snack called mứt quất.
The pomelo, (Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis), is native to South East Asia. It is usually pale green to yellow when ripe, with sweet white (even (but rare) pink or red) flesh and very thick spongy rind. The rind really surprises you because once you peel it, the flesh is about the size of an orange. It is the largest citrus fruit, ranging from the size of an extra-large grapefruit to the diameter of a basketball, and weighs between 1 and 2 kg. Other names for pomelo include pummelo, pommelo, Chinese grapefruit, Lusho Fruit, jabong, pompelmous and shaddock.
The pomelo tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit – but without the grapefruit’s bitterness. The peel is used to make marmalade, or candied then dipped in chocolate – I can also vouch it makes an awesome limoncello style drink – I named my version po-cello.
The United States is the top producer of pomelo, followed by China, South Africa, and Mexico.
Oyster’s Quick Coucous Recipe (or what to do with a bunch of CSA veggies)
This dish serves 6.
- ½ head cabbage, sliced in 1″ squares
- 2 sweet potatoes, dices
- 4 carrots, sliced in ¼inch discs
- 3/4 c dried apricots, diced
- 3 green spring garlics, dices
- 1 (12oz) can chick peas (garbonzo beans), drained (fresh is preferred)
- 1c couscous
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/8 tsp cumin, ( I used the seeds and ground them in a moral and pestle, but ground works just as well)
- 1 ½ perserved lemons (I keep a jar at all times in my refridgerator) Scrape out the flesh leaving the rind and dice the rind into 1/8″ squares – a squeeze of fresh lemon juice would substitute, or just omit. I cannot think of a good substitute. Note the recipe in the link uses Meyers lemons – you can use any variety you find at the grocers.
- salt and pepper
Pour one glass of good red vino. Roast the carrots and sweet potatos in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt ~ 25 minutes. Check for tenderness, I like my veggies with a bit of crunch still in them, definitely not soft. Place one cup of water in a medium size sauce pan, and bring to boil (check the directions on your couscous package, mine had a 1:1 ratio between couscous and water). While the veggies are roasting and the water is coming to a boil saute the garlic in a bit of olive oil and when softened add the garbonzo beans, and spices stir fry. Stir in the dried apricots. A few minutes prior to adding the couscous add the cabbage to soften it up, again, I like a bit of crunch here, and if you like yours more cooked – add earlier. Once the water has come to a boil, take off heat and add couscous. Stir the couscous with a fork for ~ 5 minutes and then add to the vegetables. Combine well, and stir in the preserved lemons.
Bon Appetit. Oh, and by now you’re probably due for another glass of wine.
PS – In my left overs I added a bit of roasted beets and that was wonderful – I’ll definitely add beets the next time I make this dish.
Santa Cruz Mountains in California (where my husband goes on his biking adventures)
The Santa Cruz Mountains are part of the Pacific Coast Ranges in central California. They form a ridge along the San Francisco Peninsula. They separate the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco Bay and the Santa Clara Valley, and continuing south, bordering Monterey Bay and ending in Salinas Valley. The range passes through San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties, with San Francisco at the northern end and Salinas as the southern end.
The highest point in the range is Loma Prieta Peak 3,786 feet (1,154 m), near which is the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The east side of the mountains drops abruptly towards this fault line especially near Woodside and Saratoga.
For much of the length of the range on the San Francisco Peninsula, State Route 35 runs along its ridge, and is known as “Skyline Boulevard”. The major routes across the mountains are (from north to south) SR 92 from Half Moon Bay to San Mateo, SR 84 from San Gregorio to Redwood City, SR 9 from Santa Cruz to Saratoga, SR 17 from Santa Cruz to Los Gatos, SR 152 from Watsonville to Gilroy, SR 129 from Watsonville to San Juan Bautista, and US Highway 101 from Salinas to Gilroy (Garlic Capital).
The Santa Cruz Mountains have been a legally defined American Viticultural Area (AVA) since 1981. The Santa Cruz Mountain AVA has emerged as premier producer of top wines, recognized in the historic Judgement of Paris on May 26, 1976. There are over 30 wineries located in this area. You can hike in the parks and then take in a winery. I ask you, does it get any better?
The Santa Cruz Mountains are largely the result of compressive uplift caused by a leftward bend of the San Andreas Fault. They have great biological diversity, encompassing cool, moist coastal ecosystems to warm, dry chaparral. In a single walk, hike, or run you can experience a variety of extremes. In valleys and moist ocean-facing slopes some of the southernmost coast redwoods grow, along with Douglas fir. Several small and isolated stands of old growth forest exist. At higher elevations and on sunny south slopes, manzanita flourishes, as does California scrub oak, chamise, and chaparral pea. Wildflowers are in abundance throughout the range.
The area is a bird watcher’s paradise, and of course critters galore. Black-tailed deer, a subspecies of Mule deer are common, as are gray squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons. Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions also inhabit the region but are rarely seen – except if you run in the early morning. I came round a bend on a trail run and stopped short in front of a cayote. I am not sure who was more startled, but he took off down the hill in a blink of an eye.
The Santa Cruz Mountains have a Mediterranean type climate typical of most of California, with most of its annual precipitation (~50″) falling between November and April. Heavy summer fogs frequently cover the western ocean-facing slopes and valleys, resulting in drizzle and “fog drip” caused by condensation on the redwoods, pines, and other trees, which sustains the moisture-loving redwood forests – it literally feels like its raining in some of the forests.
The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to an unusual abundance of parks and protected open spaces, notable among them is California’s oldest state park: Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Hiking, horse-riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, and backpacking are popular activities. There are two long-distance trails in the range: the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail, which winds 58 km (38 miles) from Castle Rock State Park through Big Basin to the Pacific Ocean, and the Bay Area Ridge Trail, which, while still disjointed, roughly parallels Skyline Boulevard along the spine of the range.
The previous historic Old Almaden Winery was located on the eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Film director Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma had their primary residence near Scotts Valley, the Cornwall Ranch, purchased in September 1940.
In the 1960s, the Santa Cruz Mountains developed a strong counterculture atmosphere. Jerry Garcia’s family owned a house in the small town of Lompico. Lompico was also the residence for Janis Joplin and her group, Big Brother and the Holding Company. Janis spoke of the Santa Cruz Mountain’s redwood forest as being divine inspiration for her music. Author and psychedelic advocate Ken Kesey’s house in La Honda served as a home base for his Merry Pranksters. His parties were noted in some of Allen Ginsberg’s poems and are also described in Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, as well as Hells Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson.
Some culinary tourism notes:
Santa Cruz has an incredible farmer’s market on Saturdays. Many small vendors participate you can try some wonderful and varied cuisine.
Pescadero has a wonderful goat cheese farm, Harley Farms, where they make all sorts of goat cheeses and other related goodies. In the general store, they have sandwiches which a great, but I suggest ordering a made to order pizza that they cook in their pizza stove while you wait. We walked by one time and they had an amazing smelling barbeque going on.
Ciao Bellais a little Italian restaurant in the quaint town of Ben Lemond. Let me just say this place is unique. If you can, get a seat outside under the redwoods – its incredible!