Citrus in Season

Citrus in Season

While we’re waiting for our favorite summer fruits to come into season, the trusty citrus family gets us through winter and spring with colorful, juicy, bright-tasting offerings.

By: Pam Whigham

Feb. 21, 2012

According to Alan Davidson’s The Oxford Companion to Food, citrus was native to a region of Eastern Asia and Australia (when the island continent was still attached to Asia) some 20 million years ago. Historical evidence points to China as the site for the earliest cultivation of citrus—primarily sweet, sour, and mandarin oranges, citron, kumquats, and the trifoliate orange.

The citron and lemon (and much later, the orange) slowly made their way to the West via India, with the former ?finally arriving in Europe during the ?first century CE. Davidson notes, “Its spread was helped more by its significance in religion and magic than by its culinary quality.”

Some may argue that the culinary gift of citrus is magical. What the many varieties of citrus all share is citric acid, which in powdered form is employed as a flavoring in all kinds of foods. The tart and tangy nature of citric acid can transform sweet, salty or bland beverages and dishes, giving them another dimension and a palatable brightness.

Discoveries wanted to explore how local chefs and food experts are using citrus in North and West Sonoma County, while these fruits are still in season.

Scott Beattie is a Healdsburg mixologist known for elevating the (cocktail) bar at Cyrus Restaurant and launching Spoonbar’s drinks menu at h2hotel. His book, Artisan Cocktails: Drinks Inspired by the Seasons from the Bar at Cyrus, (Ten Speed Press, 2008), is a beautifully photographed compilation of his uber-creative recipes.

Beattie concocts his cocktails with in-season fruits and vegetables, handmade infusions and syrups, essential oils, edible flowers and exotic garnishes. He looks for ingredients grown locally and organically, if possible. It’s no wonder that he has sought out Healdsburg-area farmers, friends and neighbors to supply him with citrus, whether from venerable trees on historic downtown properties or family farms in Dry Creek Valley.
Among Beattie’s local sources are Bruce and Liz McConnell, owners of Healdsburg’s Chevy dealership, who have a thriving orchard of Meyer lemons, satsuma mandarins, Rangpur limes and Key limes.
Beattie also keeps a few varieties of citrus in his own backyard: kaffir and Rangpur limes, yuzu, and the unusually shaped Buhdda’s Hand. They’re planted in containers so that he can move them to his garage when there’s a threat of a freeze. A fifth variety, a bergamot orange tree, he gave to friends who were opening a café of the same name. “It seemed like the right thing to do,” Beattie observed. Bergamot orange provides a traditional flavor element in Earl Grey tea.

One of the most intriguing varieties of citrus that Beattie has worked with is the Australian Finger lime. “It’s the most unusual in flavor profile,” he says. It’s apparently black when split open, revealing what Beattie calls “lime caviar.” The oils are perfumed and the flavor, he explains, is hard to describe.
The marriage of citrus and spirits is an old one. Beattie notes that the classic punch was the grand-daddy of all mixed drinks. It was a seaman’s libation long before it enlivened parties in drawing rooms. The first punches began with sugar and chunks of whatever citrus was available in the bottom of a bowl. These were muddled together, creating the original sweet-and-sour mix. The liquor then was poured over this mash-up.
Beattie’s cocktails are as fun in nomenclature as they are in appearance. We featured “Meyer Beautiful” (My, You’re Beautiful) in the Winter 2008-2009 issue of Discoveries. Other citrusy libations of his are the grapefruit-inspired Pelo de Perro (Hair of the Dog), the mandarin orange and Chinese five spice-flavored Waverly Place Echo, and the Thai Monkey, which uses Hangar One Buddha’s hand vodka.

For Beattie’s version of the Italian liqueur, limoncello, he says, “Don’t waste your money on expensive brands of vodka for this recipe.” He recommends using a single citrus variety or a combination of two, and also to give the fruits a good scrubbing before zesting if they are not local, unwaxed citrus.

The repertoire of Relish Culinary Adventures includes recipes for both fresh and preserved citrus. Relish owner Donna Del Rey uses a Middle Eastern recipe for salt-preserved lemons that results in a product that is “definitely savory, not sweet,” Del Rey says, “We love using preserved lemons all year round in recipes. And it’s a great way to preserve excess lemons on the tree right now. Both Eureka and Meyer lemons work great—Eurekas have a thicker peel but the Meyers have such a lovely flavor.”
Relish Culinary held a citrus preserving class in February, where people learned how to make preserved lemons, lime curd, and orange marmalade. As of press time, Del Rey was hoping to use old-grove oranges for the marmalade.

“There are at least a few vendors at the Santa Rosa Farmers Market (at the Veterans Building) who grow amazing citrus: DeSantis Citrus, Neufeld Farms, and others. Hit the market on a Wednesday or Saturday morning and check them out,” says Del Rey. “And yes,” she continues, “local yards are great sources for lots of beautiful citrus this time of year.”

Downtown Bakery & Creamery in Healdsburg boasts a wide array of pastries and desserts, but is perhaps best known for fresh fruit tarts and custard tarts. A standout in the citrus category is the Lemon Curd Tart garnished with candied kumquat slices. Another favorite is a grapefruit and champagne sorbet that appears seasonally among the bakery’s home-style ice creams and sorbets.

“We use orange juice in all kinds of items,” says owner Kathleen Stewart, “and we make citrus-based syrups.” Like Beattie and Del Rey, Stewart has her local sources for citrus, such as Colleen McGlynn of Dry Creek Valley’s DaVero Vineyards and Farm. “Colleen is only using the peel for her Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, and so she gives the juice ?to us.”

“People bring us all kinds of things; I get loads of stuff brought to me from people’s backyards or small orchards,” says Stewart, noting that her business began 25 years ago when three Chez Panisse alumnae wanted to practice a local, natural, and organic approach. “I don’t buy from industrial sources,” she adds.
While big-scale citrus growers have abandoned Sonoma, the county’s historical connections with citrus are impressive. Cloverdale was once famous for its orange and lemon crops and continues to celebrate the Citrus Fair, which has run annually for 120 years. Cloverdale-area citrus cultivation gradually disappeared after freezes made the crop too risky as a commercial venture and stiff price competition from other citrus-growing regions hit the area hard.

As Stewart points out, the growth of farmers markets has now created a niche for specialty produce. “Cloverdale, pre-1980s, couldn’t compete without that kind of consumer demand,” she says about the current awareness and desire for locally grown, organic produce and heirloom varieties.
It’s good to know that local sources still exist for lemons, oranges, mandarins, and even more exotic varieties, thriving on small farms and in private gardens. We can sample creations of chefs and food professionals who have developed access to local and in-season citrus. With proper protection from the elements, we can plant some for ourselves. And we can investigate trade and barter relationships with friends and neighbors who’ve got their own citrus cache.

In any case, we hope you’ll celebrate citrus by trying these delicious recipes. All hail, Citrus!     •


Hello Cello
Recipe from Artisan Cocktails
by Scott Beattie
Makes 2 (750-ml) bottles

8 lemons, 10 limes, 4 grapefruits, ?6 oranges, or a combination
1 quart 100-proof vodka
2 cups simple syrup (see below)
Using a potato peeler, or a sharp paring knife, zest the citrus fruit over and into a large airtight container until you have approximately 11⁄3 cups of zest. Try to avoid zesting the white pith, which is bitter. Pour the vodka into the container. Cover and let the vodka and zest mixture rest for at least 1 week in a cool, dark place. Once infused, strain out the zest and add the simple syrup to the vodka. Seal the container and let the cello rest for 1 more week, refrigerated. Strain the cello into glass bottles and store them in the freezer.

To make simple syrup:

Combine equal parts of boiling water and superfine granulated sugar. The final yield of simple syrup is the same as the starting measurement of the water.

  1. Stir well until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Fresh Greens with Orange, Grapefruit, Avocado, Spiced Pecans and Citrus Vinaigrette
Recipe courtesy of Relish Culinary Adventures
Serves 8

2 oranges
1 pink grapefruit
2 ripe avocados
1 large bulb fennel
8 oz. baby arugula or rocket
1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil (more to taste)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Candied, spiced or toasted pecans (optional garnish)
Segment citrus (oranges and grapefruit) and catch dripping juice in a bowl. Set aside.

  1. Peel and slice avocado into thin wedges. Thinly slice the fennel.
  2. In a large bowl, combine citrus segments, avocado and fennel with the arugula.
  3. To make vinaigrette, in a medium bowl whisk together 2 Tbsp of the reserved citrus juices with about ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Taste the vinaigrette by dipping arugula leaves and adjust ratio of citrus and oil as desired.
  4. Toss salad to lightly coat with dressing. Top with optional toasted, candied or spiced pecans and serve.

Salt-Preserved Lemons
Recipe courtesy Relish Culinary Adventures
Makes 1 pint

5 lemons, Meyer or Eureka
Kosher salt
3 bay leaves (optional)
3 to 5 whole black peppercorns
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

  1. Quarter the lemons from the top to within 1⁄2-inch of the bottom, open like a flower, thoroughly salt, and then reshape the fruit.
  2. Place 1⁄4-inch of salt on the bottom of a sterilized one-pint mason jar. Pack in the lemons and push them down, adding more salt, and the spices, between layers. Press the lemons down to release their juices and to make room for the remaining lemons. (The bay leaves look beautiful slid between the lemons and the glass.)
  3. Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to completely cover. Leave 3⁄4-inch of air space. Seal the jar.
  4. Let the lemons ripen in a warm place. Tumble the jar each day to distribute the salt and juice. Let ripen for at least 30 days.
  5. To use, rinse the lemons under running water. Remove and discard the pulp, if desired, using the peel to flavor dishes, sauces, dressings, and other recipes. There is no need to refrigerate ?after opening.

(All area codes 707)
Scott Beattie Cocktail catering and consulting, 812-3665,
Downtown Bakery & Creamery, 308 Center St.,  Healdsburg, 431-2719,
Relish Culinary Adventures,14 Matheson St.;  Healdsburg,431-9999,

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