With apologies to Jeanette Winterson, this week we look at the little guys of the citrus world. Or, in the case of grapefruit, the big fat bruisers. Sweet oranges and lemons get the majority of the citrus press (of which, I suspect, there isn’t much), but there are myriad other types of citrus to fawn and salivate over. Limes, mandarins, grapefruit, citrons – the choices are many, and they are good.
The variety of mandarins and mandarin hybrids is vast: clementines, satsumas, tangerines, tangelos, sweet mandarin, sour mandarin, and on and on. The closest you’ll find to any sort of holiday gift guide on this website is my suggestion to put a tangerine in the bottom of someone's Christmas stocking. It’s a long-held Yuletide tradition, and a damn sight more pleasant than getting a lump of coal.
While we’re at it, a quick holiday Grammar-Nazi rant for the countless gift guide offenders I encounter each year: "gift” is a noun, not a verb. You may not “gift” someone a present, you may GIVE it to them. It’s a perfectly nice verb that has been around a long time and doesn't need replacement. Also, you may not “fancy” anything up. You can make it fancy (adjective), or you can fancy a pint or Brad Pitt (verb). Rant over.
Mandarin plants are evergreen and relatively low-maintenance, as long as you choose the right variety for your climate.
In Northern Europe, choose “Calamondin.” It’s a sour-acid mandarin and thus better for cooking than eating off the tree, but it’s quite cold-hardy. If you really live in the northernmost north of Northern Europe, grow it in a container and bring it indoors for the winter; enduring snow is too much to ask of any citrus fruit. Inside, keep it in bright, indirect light, and your container-grown citrus will emerge perkily from the winter months, your house all the lusher for its presence. On a side Northern European note, The Linden Green has recently acquired Serbian and Russian readers, which is extremely exciting and Slavic, and honestly, I couldn’t recommend a better citrus to you than “Calamondin” or "Yuzu" (more on it below). Hvala Vam. Spasiba.
“Clementine” is another excellent container choice and has very sweet fruit though lots of seeds, which can be tricky for small children. Clementines need less heat than many other mandarins, and their trees are small and drooping. “Dancy” is a classic Christmas stocking choice, as it ripens through winter and thus adds vibrancy to December and January gardens in hot regions. “Honey” has the sweetest name and produces a large, spreading tree if you have the space. “Kinnow” is great for traditional citrus climates; the tree is more upright than spreading, and the fruit ripens through winter and early spring. The well-named “Pixie” is a great choice for families with children, as the fruit is seedless and juicy and the peel comes off easily.
"Yuzu" is seriously cool. Also, no pun intended, it has extreme cold tolerance. "Yuzu" grows wild in Tibetan crags and Central China and can withstand temperatures as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It is an excellent choice for the cold-weather dwellers amongst us, but do keep in mind that all citrus, cold-hardy or not, need at least six hours of reliable sun a day.
The "Yuzu" tree is very thorny and becomes gnarled by storms and wind. The fruit is sublime. Newly faddish to the West, it has been prized in Asia for over 1200 years. It’s the main ingredient in ponzu sauce and is essential to many miso soup recipes. Outside of its culinary uses, yuzu is also a part of Toji, the Japanese observance of the winter solstice. In Kyoto, a hot yuzu bath is a ceremonial ritual undertaken to ward off illness in the forthcoming year.
Four Winds Growers (an excellent US citrus source) offers this yuzu recipe...
Edamame Shiso Salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette
- 3 cups cooked, shelled edamame (Possible substitutions: fava beans, yard long beans, peas, asparagus or salad greens)
- 1 tbsp Yuzu juice
- 5 or more shiso leaves, sliced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Zest from one Yuzu or lemon
- Toasted sesame seeds
Place edamame or other salad fixings in a serving bowl.
Mix in blender: Yuzu juice, half of the shiso leaves, the olive oil, vinegar and maple syrup. Gently combine dressing with salad including remaining shiso leaves. Garnish with Yuzu or lemon zest and toasted sesame seeds if desired. Serve immediately.
Grapefruit – I don’t like it. But you might, so in the spirit of giving, I offer you a smidgeon of grapefruit info. Don’t bother growing it without summer heat and lots of space, as the tree can reach 30 feet in height. It’s called “grapefruit,” by the way, because the fruit hang in grape-like clusters on the tree. The flesh color is determined more by cultural conditions than variety, so don’t get hung up on finding a red-, white- or pink-fleshed cultivar. “Duncan” is perhaps a little dorky but extremely juicy and flavorful. Make of that what you will. “Rio Red” needs a lot of heat but is good for juice. “Cocktail” has a promising name and is extremely juicy. Perhaps it is best used in Food & Wine’s “Big Texan Bourbon-and-Grapefruit Cocktail.” (This blog is becoming alarmingly boozy.)
Grimy, blimey, limey – everyone loves limes. And Englishmen. And mad dogs. (Perhaps the blog's increased booziness is the culprit for its increased weirdness?) Anyhow, limes are useful and good. Key lime pie, Coronas with lime, Mojitos (oy); I must find a space in my garden for a lime tree. The best variety is “Bearss” lime; I have no idea why so many “s’s,” but if they really bother you, it’s also known as “Persian” and “Tahiti.” It bears(s) fruit in winter, is very thorny and seedless, and can be grown in a container or in the ground. “Key” lime (aka “Mexican” lime) is very sensitive to cold. The Florida Keys, after all, are not known for their harsh winters. Mature limes are actually yellow, but we see green ones in the shop because they can be picked and eaten when immature.
I will leave you with the Citron group, which really will not survive cold weather but is small in size, and thus great in containers. “Buddha’s Hand” bears a crazy-looking fruit that resembles, well… a hand.
And although we are fast approaching Hanukkah, I'll leave you with “Ethrog,” one of the four fruits in the Jewish feast Sukkot. “Ethrog” (or “Etrog”) is a ridged Israeli variety, and during Sukkot, one of its branches is held along with those of the palm, the willow and the myrtle. The four species are then used in a blessing and waved to the east, the south, the west, the north, up and down, to signify that god is everywhere.