Edible Understanding: Ode to the Bittersweet Winter Citrus

Photo of a citrus composite

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Winter can often be dark, windy and cold. However, it is during these gloomy months that our brightest and sweetest citrus fruits flourish. Across North America, ruby grapefruits, navel oranges, tangerines, kumquats, lemons, mandarins, satsumas and pomelos reach their peak during the winter.

Stretched along the Saturday Downtown Berkeley Farmers’ Market, several ranches and farms line the street with their bright citrus fruits on display. Brokaw Ranch Company, Kaki Farm and Flying Disc Ranch are just some of the small farms I saw that sell citrus to our Berkeley community. 

“We got navel oranges right now, we have eureka lemons, meiwa kumquats, star ruby grapefruits, moro blood oranges, passion fruits. We have a really awesome clementine,” said Nina Jackson, an Oakland local who hawks for Brokaw Ranch, located just south of Ventura County in Southern California.

Jackson told me that farms such as Brokaw benefit from the climate, especially in Southern California. “It’s kinda just like the perfect conditions,” Jackson said.

Here in Berkeley, we are lucky to have our farmers market encompass a variety of farms across California. This allows us to have citrus year round and not just in the winter. “We are constantly growing, picking, producing, sorting, selling citrus,” Jackson said.

Nevertheless, winter is the best time to enjoy various citrus fruits. How can we use this seasonal product to both support our local farmers and to get us out of the winter rut? The possibilities are endless, but I offer a few: palomas, citrus salads and cakes and shortbread.

“I personally love to make cocktails with the grapefruit. … If you want to add a little interest to your juice or salad dressing, blood oranges are great for that,” Jackson said.

REFRESHMENT

Readers older than 21 might choose to start on their winter citrus journeys with a refreshing drink: a paloma.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces tequila
  • 2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
  • Juice of one lime
  • Teaspoon agave
  • Salt
  • 2 ounces sparkling water

Squeeze a grapefruit that has just begun to over ripen to obtain 2 ounces of grapefruit juice. Add the juice and an equal amount of tequila into a cup with lime juice and agave, then vigorously stir.

If you are feeling fancy, rub the rim of your glass with grapefruit juice or agave and dip it in some salt. Finally, place your desired amount of ice in your glass, pour your mixture over the ice and top off the drink with sparkling water. If you ever find yourself in doubt, just remember that this recipe has a general 2:2:2 ratio. 

Palomas can be as cheap as your college student budget requires them to be. Make them with a $14 bottle of tequila from Trader Joe’s, or opt for a nicer bottle of Casamigos or Patron Silver if you happen to be running a surplus this month.

Now that your taste buds are tingling and your fruit basket is still overflowing with citrus, let’s make something savory. 

SAVORY

A hearty citrus salad makes a great savory appetizer or even a meal all on its own. Ali Slagle, a recipe contributor to The New York Times, inspired me to pair salmon with citrus in her ginger-dill salmon recipe. However, you might prefer to use a different meat or a vegetarian option.

Photo of a grapefruit salad

Isabel Bollinger / Staff

Ingredients

  • 3 pieces citrus (navel oranges, grapefruit, blood oranges, etc.)
  • ½ avocado
  • ½ bulb fennel or bushel of baby radishes
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Teaspoon ginger
  • 3 tablespoons chopped herbs
  • Teaspoon white miso (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooked salmon, grilled chicken, roasted chickpeas, grains or roasted vegetables 

To make a basic citrus salad, I used one grapefruit and two blood oranges from Brokaw Ranch; you can, however, use any three pieces of citrus fruit. Slice the peel and pith off the fruit, but do not discard them. Cut the fruit transversely multiple times so that you end up with flowerlike rounds of citrus. 

Peel and slice half an avocado into eighths. Then, thinly slice the fennel or radishes for an extra crunch. Place your citrus, crunchy vegetables and slices of avocado in your serving dish.

In a separate bowl, squeeze the remaining juice from your peels and mix it with a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper, ginger, miso (optional) and your herb of choice. Following Slagle’s recipe, I used dill, but feel free to use cilantro, basil, rosemary or whatever tickles your fancy. This will be your dressing. 

Season and cook your salmon however you like — grill, bake, or sear it. However, if fish is not up your alley or is out of your budget, feel free to pair this salad with grilled chicken instead. You could also use grains such as farro and quinoa or roasted vegetables and garbanzo beans. Place your choice of add-ons over your bed of citrus. Pour your homemade dressing over your salad, and garnish with a sprig of your herb of choice. 

Et voila! You are a fancy student chef. 

SWEET

One can never go wrong with citrus dessert, be it citrus shortbread, lemon poppyseed cake, lemon bars or lemon pound cake. A personal favorite of mine is Claire Saffitz’s blood orange upside down olive oil cake — the bitter pith and the sweet syrup of the fruit pair beautifully. However, if you are looking for something sweet yet simple to put your winter citrus to good use, an easy citrus shortbread might be a better option.

Photo of citrus shortbread

Isabel Bollinger / Staff

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ⅓ cup rice flour, cornstarch or all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Zest of two pieces of citrus (lemon or orange)
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon citrus juice
  • ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar

This recipe makes about 16 squares of shortbread. Start by preheating your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and greasing an 8 inch by 8 inch baking dish.

Combine your flour with the salt and rice flour or cornstarch. If you do not have either of these on hand, you can make do with all-purpose flour. 

Zest your citrus into a separate bowl, reserving a sprinkle of zest for garnish. With your fingers, rub the zest into the granulated sugar. When you do so, the sharp sugar granules break down the zest, releasing its aromatic oils and filling the sugar with its flavor. Then, combine the butter with your zest-infused sugar. Mix until the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy. If you do not have an electric mixer, beat your sugar by hand until the sugar is fully combined or until your arm gives out. Then add a tablespoon of your citrus juice to the butter and mix it in. 

Next, slowly combine the flour with your butter mixture until the two are just combined. Press your zesty dough into the bottom of your prepared baking dish and place it in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. When it’s done, the shortbread should be just golden brown along the sides. Before cooling, cut out the general shape of your cookies, then leave them in the pan to cool. 

While your cookies cool, prepare your glaze. To do so, take 1 tablespoon of juice from your citrus fruits, and combine it with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and the confectioners’ sugar. You can adjust the consistency of your glaze by adding more sugar to make it thicker or more juice to thin it out. 

Once they have cooled completely, remove the cookies from the pan, dip them into your glaze and enjoy your beautiful creation. 

By customizing the mixture of citrus you use for this recipe (I opted for a ridiculous number of lemons from Flying Disc Ranch), you can choose your own path when it comes to the flavor profile of your shortbread. Lemons offer a sharper and more tangy option, whereas the zest of an orange gives off a more floral and sweet flavor. 

Creating change within our food system, or even just contemplating our food system, can be daunting. However, it is important to find enjoyment in your efforts to create change — and there may be no better way to do that than eating the most delicious in-season produce and exploring new recipes to treat yourself to in the kitchen. Through educating ourselves and exploring seasonal agriculture, we can create a symbiotic relationship with our farmers, lifting our communities and our spirits as we enjoy treats made from locally-sourced produce. 

While these recipe suggestions may seem a little too complicated for your taste, Jackson reminded me that citrus fruits can be used with as much simplicity or complexity as we like. 

“They’re amazing and so versatile … even just for a snack,” Jackson said. “Anything you see here is just nice to keep in your backpack.”

Contact Isabel Bollinger at [email protected].