California Specialty Citrus
As much as I love all food, there is one piece of produce that I wait all year to get my hands on: the Heirloom Navel Orange. I discovered this orange a few years back and when I was shooting my television show for NBC. I was lucky enough to travel to Orange Cove, California to visit Rising C Ranches. Eric and Kim Cristensen have been farming there since 1988 and you can find their citrus under the “Ripe To You” label in your local market.
Orange Cove has the perfect climate for citrus with hot, dry days and cold nights. This fluctuation in temperature brings out the big flavor in the citrus grown there. Located at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it reminds me of the vineyards in Napa Valley, neatly tucked in between the mountain ranges.
Their Heirloom Navel Orange, in my opinion is the best eating orange on the market today. They are grown on “old line” Washington Navel trees, so you are actually eating the same navels as they were one hundred years ago before they were genetically altered for mass production. The result is an extremely sweet orange with a delicate, juicy flesh. The season starts in November and lasts into April. The Christensen’s like to say they haven’t come up with anything new in growing their Heirloom Navels, they are just farming them they way it was done one hundred years ago. That is what gives them their pure taste. Sometimes new and improved is not as good as the original.
In addition to the Heirloom Navel, two of my other favorites from the farm are the Meyer Lemon and the Melogold Pummelo. The Meyer Lemon is a highly undervalued and underutilized fruit. Thought to be a hybrid of a lemon and an orange, the rind is a deep yellow-gold and is thinner than an ordinary lemon. There is also little to no oil in the rind, and it has a much lower acid level, so the juice does not have a lemon’s customary bitterness. Meyer Lemons are very aromatic, and when they were being harvested you can actually smell a large bin of Meyer Lemons from quite a distance. Like the heirloom navel orange, Meyer Lemon season starts in November and lasts into April. The only downside is since it has such a thin rind they tend to have a shorter shelf life than your regular lemons. You do not want to keep yours for more than a week.
Most likely you have never heard of the Melogold Pummelo. You may not have even heard of a pummelo. You can think of a pummelo as an oversized grapefruit. The Melogold has the appearance of a pummelo, but is flatter on its top and bottom, and it has a deeper yellow color. It is actually a cross between a true pummelo and a Marsh grapefruit and it is sweeter than any pummelo or grapefruit I have ever tasted with absolutely no need to finish it with sugar. The rind is thick but soft, almost spongelike with zero oil. This could be why the taste is a nice blend – sweet, juicy and non-bitter. The pale-yellow to white flesh produces easily segmented large, sweet sections that are tender, seedless and full of juice. The Melogold season starts in December and lasts into April.
You can learn more about Rising C Ranches and Ripe To You here: http://ripetoyou.com/ and here: Facebook
Here are my Citrus tips:
1) You want the fruit to feel heavy for its size. Pick up two that are the same size and see which one feels heavier.
2) You want the end of the stem to still be attached to the fruit for freshness. It will last longer.
3) Store your citrus in the refrigerator but let it come to room temperature before consuming. As it gets closer to room temperature more flavor will come out in the flesh.
And a simple Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette:
Makes ¾ cup, enough for about 8 salads
Ingredients: 1/4 cup Meyer Lemon juice 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil salt to taste pepper to taste
Add the olive oil and lemon juice to a bowl and mix. Add the salt and pepper and serve