Sunday, December 4, 2011

Aequalitate, Veritas et Citrus

The beginning of the citrus season is one of my favorite things about the tide between Thanksgiving and trimming the Christmas tree. Some people like to move from one holiday right to the next. I prefer when time moves more slowly. Sure, we bring out the advent calendar and some greens for our planters outside, but we've also set out in-shell nuts and big bowls of Cuties or satsumas. The dark afternoons are a lovely time for candles and jazz. In the ten days before Christmas and for the twelve days post we are pretty festive. But for now it's more about the pure change of season.

Citrus are not created equal. The individual varieties have not gotten the marketing blitz or branding that the apple enjoys. More than that though, it's the supply of sub-par citrus that surprises me. A generic clementine (and most tangerines) generally amounts to a sour mouthful of pulp waiting to sit stagnant in your gut and make you bloated. To be fair, even a perfect Cutie clementine will act similarly but will first skip merrily down your throat and make you forget all your troubles for at least five minutes post-mastication. Even the lowly lemon can disappoint, especially when you were counting on one to be juicy but the whole weight of it was in the skin.

Some citrus truths:

1. A good satsuma is hard to come by in Chicago. I used to get great ones when we lived in the Pacific Northwest. Not so much anymore. Whole Foods has them sometimes but they're not dependably excellent.
2. Cuties are the best clementine. Nothing Compares 2 Cuties.
3. Florida should stop sending forth its nasty grapefruit. They could use the the crop for bocce.
4. Ruby Red grapefruit from Texas is the only grapefruit worth eating. Last year the best foodie gift of Christmas (or perhaps tied with the case of Dave's Albacore Tuna) was a generous box of deep red Rubies from Bell's Farm. They were just perfect.

5. What's the best way to pick citrus? Weight and smell. Generally, it's heft you're looking for. A higher water weight generally means a more succulent piece of fruit. Get comfortable smelling your produce. If it smells delicious it's not going to disappoint. If it smells bland move on.

Finally, don't let another winter pass you by without trying something new. Not sure what to do with a Blood orange or a Meyer lemon? Start simply: Squeeze blood oranges and serve the juice or make a cocktail. Make a Meyer lemon curd and serve alongside a simple cake. It's citrus season! Enjoy it.

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