It's 3:00 AM in the morning and I'm pulling into the San Francisco Terminal Produce market in my Chevy pickup truck to go to work. A brightly lit city in it's own the produce market is bustling with trucks and forklifts. Workers coffee cups
on top of boxes, some in hand, and some creatively attached to forklifts all send up signals of steam against the frigid early December morning. The season has arrived. Pallets and pallets of boxes of several varieties of fresh produce items line the stalls like a city skyline.
Buyers haggling over prices, hand trucks and pallet jacks scrambling all over the docks filling trucks. Several rows of colorful boxes are lined up like an aerial view of a parking lot awaiting the orders of Bay Area stores and restaurants.
The season of citrus is here. Varieties with many shades of orange & red adorn produce stands and farmers markets. Valencia oranges step aside and give the spotlight to navel oranges. Texas and Florida grapefruit varieties come into play alongside of California & Arizona. Mandarins from California,
Louisiana & Florida displayed next to Spanish & Moroccan fruit. Tangerines, Pumello's, Kumquats are all part of this citrus celebration.
Here are some of my favorite picks of the immediate season:
Satsuma Mandarin The earliest variety of mandarin to hit the produce market. There are varieties within this variety. Some with sheepy nosed stems and others flat like Clemetines. No matter the variety they are both a real treat. Grown in the
San Joaquin Valley of California this mandarin is easy to peel, seedless, juicy and sweet! The sections separate readily. For this reason it is popular with parents to pack in school lunches. Sizing varies from medium to colossal. Don't shy away from puffy loose skinned fruit it
is their nature. This is known as "zipper skinned." Look for fruit with no brown spots on the skin. Some fruit may have green around the stem area. This is due to the fact that if left n the trees the sugars build up too much resulting in a short but enjoyable season.
Available November through January.
The Fairchild tangerine is very popular at Chinese New Year because it is medium sized and is made available with the leaves & stems on. The Tangerine is symbolic of good luck as the word tangerine has the same sound as the word luck in Chinese.
The Fairchild Tangerine has few seeds with a mild, but tangy flavor. It is the cross between the Clementine & Orlando varieties. The fruit is easy to peel and is bright orange exterior & interior. Look for fairly firm fruit with a mild give. Available November through February.
Spanish Clementines. Like the Satsuma the Clementine is easy to peel. Virtually seedless, sweet and juicy. Grown in Southern Spain this mandarin is a winner! They come packed in 5# boxes for retail display. Every 10 years the Clementines from
Spain produce an extra juicy and extremely high sugar fruit. This is just a bonus to the already incredible flavor which in the norm. Un fortunately this year the Clementine from Spain was victim of The Mediterranean Fruit Fly and had to be halted in its tracks. Tons of the fruit
has been seized and will not be available for sale. Several stores were ordered by the USDA to halt sales, but the stores lashed back vowing to sell what they had left in stock sending devoted fans of the fruit rushing to the stores to buy up what was left.
Q: What is the difference between a mandarin and a tangerine?
A: A mandarin is a citrus fruit that is easy to peel. Meaning the skin slips off of the fruit easily.
Texas Grapefruit. Rio Star, Star Ruby and Ruby Sweetare just a few of the sweet and juicy varieties of grapefruit available from the Lone Star State! Mix and match the varieties if your store carries them.
Ruby Sweet Is a yellow skinned fruit with a blush of red. The interior is 5 times redder than the Ruby Red. The Rio Star is 7-10 times redder than the Ruby Sweet. It is a cross between the Rio Red and the Star Ruby. The skin has a blush all around.
Other varieties like the Rio Star and the Ruby Red are lighter in color, but just as tasty. In any event Grapefruit varieties from Texas are a real treat with a long season from October to May.
Look for fruit heavy for its size That's an indication of their juiciness. Avoid light and puffy fruit with sunken spots or brown spots. Grapefruit are great juiced, sectioned and put in salads or eating right out of hand.
The Grapefruit from the Indian River area are legendary. Marsh White Grapefruit is exceptional and making a noticeable comeback.
It is tangier than the red varieties with the right touch of sweetness. The Flame Red & Ruby Red varieties are intense dark red inside and seedless. The season is lengthy. Available late September to June.
Red Navel Oranges. This is one of my
favorite new citrus varieties. It's the classic case of
not judging a book by it's cover. Looking at it on the
produce stand you would never know what the interior has
to offer. The Cara Cara Red Navel from
California is the most popular of the red navel varieties,
it originated in the early 1970’s in Hacienda Cara
Cara in Venezuela. This orange is deep red
inside and is loaded with beta-carotene as well as vitamin
C The Scarlet Navel from Florida is another
popular variety. A little lighter in red than the Cara
Cara it is packed with juice & distinctive flavor.
Red Navels are available December through March.
Q: Why are some Valencia oranges green in color?
A: Valencia oranges will "re-green" on the trees. The warm air in the summer causes the oranges to pull chlorophyll into the peel from the leaves and stems. Re-greening does not effect the quality of the fruit at all.
Navel Oranges from California Texas & Florida are also available this time of year. Texas and Florida fruit is not as colorful as California due to warmer sub-tropical temperatures. They will also tend to have some surface spots that are harmless. Inside the
fruit is juicy and sweet. Right here in our own backyard are "Washington variety" California navels that are prime now. The crop this year is down 11% meaning there are fewer oranges, but sizes are large and the fruit is fantastic. Pick oranges heavy for their size and
firm. Avoid light and puffy fruit. Available November – March beginning with the Beck variety and sometimes right into June ending with the Late Lane variety.
Juicing Oranges. More oranges with a light colored scarred surface. The most popular coming from Texas. Varieties include Hamlin, Marrs, & Pineapple oranges. My favorite being the Pineapple Orange. It's juice is thin and light,
but sweet with a mild hint of pineapple. Juice oranges are loaded with lots of tasty juice. They do have a substantial amount of seeds, so remember they are juicing oranges. Again with most citrus, pick fruit that is heavy for it's size and firm. Keep juicing oranges at room temperature
to yield the most juice. After squeezing refrigerate the juice right away unless you consume it all.
Juice oranges are available year round if you include the Valencia orange in the mix.
Q: Do oranges ripen after they are picked from the tree?
A: No Oranges cease to ripen when picked and will only begin to soften and eventually decay (if not consumed). Lemons however do ripen after picking.
Blood Oranges. This distinct flavored orange was discovered in Spain in 1929. They called it Sanguinelli. It is the common orange in Europe especially Italy.Two varieties are most common in California The Moro and the Tarocco. The Tarocco is mild in color
both on the surface and the interior, but very sweet. It has red veins inside but remains light in color. Hints of berry mixed with a mild but recognizable tartness make this a fabulous citrus experience. The Moro is deep blood red inside with a strong raspberry undertone. Both
varieties are easy to peel and have few seeds. Available from November to May from various growing regions in California. Pick fruit that is heavy for it's size. This fruit normally has a fair give to it.
Minneola Tangelos. Coming soon to a produce stand near you! This cross between a Grapefruit and a Dancy Tangerine without doubt is identifiable by the knobby stem end. This fruit
is deep orange inside and on the surface. The skin is very oily and sprays the smell of citrus blossoms into the air when peeled by hand. It has a mild tang, is very sweet and very juicy. Mostly seedless – few if any. Available from December through March.
are several other varieties of Grapefruit, oranges,
tangerines and mandarins available from several growing
regions in the U.S. and around the world. There are
Temple Oranges and Pumelos (shown), Royal Mandarins
and Orlando Tangelos. Kumquats, Limequats, Buddha Hand
Lemons and so much more. Each one with their own distinct
characteristics. Try them all. Juice them, eat them
out of hand, add them to green salads or fruit salads.
Bake them with a chicken
or a duck. Add them to salsas and smoothies. This is the
best time of the year for variety. The best time of
the year for a citrus celebration.