BY DEBRA J. MORRIS
California was once known for acres and acres of citrus fruit, but as the population expanded the fields were plowed under and homes and businesses built. There has been a resurgence of citrus tree planting the last 20 years that more than makes up for it with farmers specializing in boutique varieties such as Cara Cara oranges, Meyer lemons, and kumquats, all of which are available at your farmers market.
The selection of citrus at the market is endless, from new tangelo and mandarin orange varieties to little fingerling limes and calamondin oranges. You’ll find December brings the best navel and Valencia oranges, bright tart lemons, and tangy grapefruit and pomelos.
Later in the season the varieties will include luscious blood oranges with deep reddish flesh, grapefruit-like pomelos with both yellow and pink flesh and a sweeter taste, and the Kaffir lime, a superb variety with a nice depth of flavor. Also check out the fun bumpy-skinned Golden Nugget mandarin orange, the amazing Marsh White grapefruit, and the sweet minneolas.
When selecting citrus, look for fruit with a shiny rind, free of blemishes, soft areas, or mold. The citrus should be heavy for its size which indicates they are full of juice. Lighter-weight fruit has more skin and a drier pulp resulting in less juice. Select navel oranges with small sized navels. Oranges with larger navels indicate they were overripe when picked. Store citrus in a cool place outside the refrigerator and try to eat them within a few days. If you need to keep them longer, refrigerate in the vegetable crisper section of the refrigerator.
You’ll find a wide variety of delectable citrus from many of our farmers. J&J Ramos Farms of Hughson has navel oranges, mandarins, tangelos, and minneolas. Ken’s Top Notch out of Fresno offers Oro Blanco and Star Ruby grapefruit, Kumquats, lemons, Golden Nugget and other mandarins, and a wide variety of oranges. Purchase from these farmers at your farmers’ market. You’ll know it came straight from the farm to you. You’ll also find many more varieties of citrus here than from any other source. Freshness means better flavor and more nutrients. Enjoy!
Citrus and Avocado Salad
10 cups torn Romaine lettuce (or your favorite greens)
1-1/2 cups orange sections, about 2 medium
1-1/2 cups tangerine sections
1 cup grapefruit sections, about 1 medium
2 medium ripe avocados, peeled and cubed
3/4 cup crumbled feta or blue cheese
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced black olives (optional)
2 lemons, juiced
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Carefully slice the peel off the citrus. Cut the citrus into slices and carefully pop out any seeds. Place lettuce, oranges, grapefruit tangerines, onions, and avocados in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together until thoroughly mixed. Drizzle over salad and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with cheese. Serve immediately.