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In Season: Perk up dark days with a spritz of citrus

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It’s as if Nature knows how dreary it can seem when winter storms set in, and so she gives us citrus to cheer us up.

Citrus, whose sugars and acids are the summation of the last season’s warmth and sunshine, is at its peak of sweetness just when we need it most. From now until April, even the grapefruits remind us of candy.

Citrus fruits are the most widely grown, diverse and useful fruits in the world. While a few of the citrus fruits in commerce are species, most are hybrids and crosses and further crosses between species and other hybrids.

Because so many modern dishes call for a bit of citrus peel zest, it’s important to use organic citrus. Fortunately, it’s not hard to find. Oliver’s, Whole Foods, Community Market and the tree in your neighbor’s yard may all have organic citrus. In these parts, Meyer lemons are as common as pussycats.

Besides, claims that organic culture yields the “most nutritious citrus” isn’t just smoke and mirrors. Students at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, under the direction of visiting chemistry professor Theo Clark, investigated the vitamin C content of organic and conventional oranges. The conventional oranges were larger than the organic oranges and had a deeper color. Because of their size, “we were expecting twice as much vitamin C in the conventional oranges,” Clark reported. But spectroscopy revealed that the organically grown oranges contained 30 percent more vitamin C than the conventionally grown fruit, even though they were only about half the size.

While the nutritional effects are a bonus, the real joy of citrus is its delicious taste that ranges from the sharply sour lemons to the wonderfully sweet Murcott’s tangerine-and- orange hybrid.

Who could predict that oranges would go so perfectly with chocolate or strawberries, that lime juice would focus the taste of corn and meld with raw fish, that grapefruit and goat cheese are a natural match? And lemons — they make half the teams of lemon and lime, lemon and honey and lemon and black currants.

A white grapefruit variety called “Marsh” used to be available at Raley’s, but they’ve been gone from the shelves there and elsewhere for many years. Too bad, because they were sweeter and more delicious than the red-to-pink grapefruit that dominate the shelves today. There’s a shipper in Florida that will sell you tree-ripened Marshes, but at $6.75 a fruit, including shipping and handling, they’re exorbitant.

The following are the cream of the citrus crop.

KUMQUAT (Fortunella crassifolia)

Meiwa — A superior kumquat, sometimes seedless, for eating out of hand or for making marmalade.

Mandarins and Tangerines (Citrus reticulata)

Brown’s Select — Satsuma type; flesh sweet, melting.

Clementine — Excellent small tangerine with rich flavor.

Dancy — America’s favorite tangerine; high quality.

Fina — Spain’s favorite tangerine; Clementine type.

Honey — Extraordinarily rich in flavor and aromatics.

Kinnow — Large tangerine with very rich flavor, aroma.

Owari — Old Japanese satsuma with rich, sweet flavor.

Silverhill — Much like Owari satsuma, but sweeter.

ORANGE (Citrus x sinensis)

Blood Orange — Many varieties are grown; best is probably Sanguinello Moscato from Italy. Moro is the most highly colored while Tarocco has outstanding flavor.

Cadenera — Nearly seedless flesh is juicy; excellent quality.

Cara Cara — A pink-fleshed navel much sought after for quality.

Homosassa — Seedy, rare, but excellent true orange flavor.

Jaffa — Oblong, seedless, easy to peel, with a fragrant, rich juice.

Lane Late — Excellent late-maturing navel from Australia.

Newhall — Small navel with good aroma and excellent flavor.

Pineapple — Florida’s best mid-season orange; juice, fresh eating.

Republic of Texas — Old-fashioned orange with excellent flavor.

Valencia — The standard late juice orange of Florida, California.

Washington Navel—The big, nearly seedless, rich-tasting navel.

SOUR ORANGE (Citrus x aurantium)

Also called Seville orange, it’s preferred for marmalade.

LIME (Citrus aurantifolia)

Everglade — The best of the yellowish key or Mexican lime.

Bearss — Small, yellowish-green fruits have lemon-lime flavor.

Tahiti — C. latifolia; seedless, green rind and flesh, true lime flavor.

LEMON (Citrus x limon)

Eureka — The standard, very acidic, high-quality lemon.

Lisbon — Very acidic, juicy, tender, nearly seedless fruit.

Meyer — Sweeter and less acidic than Eureka; unique taste.

PUMMELO (Citrus grandis)

Carters Red — Large pummelo with high quality red flesh.

Choy — Flavor similar to sweet grapefruit; grown in Hawaii.

Red Shaddock — Rich, red flesh is very sweet and low in acid.

GRAPEFRUIT (Citrus x paradisi)

White Grapefruit:

Duncan — An old variety with superior flavor.

Marsh — Today’s standard of quality, juicy, sweet.

Oro Blanco — A cross between Citrus grandis and C. paradisi.

Pink Grapefruit:

Ruby Red — Deep red flesh with rich, sprightly flavor.

Shambar — Pink flesh, very juicy, with excellent flavor.

Thompson — Also known as Pink Marsh; colorless juice.

TANGELO (Citrus x tangelo)

Minneola — Deep red-orange peel; melting, sweet-acid flavor.

Ugli — Tangerine- grapefruit cross with sweet, fine flavor.

Wekiwa — Aka Lavender Gem; irresistably delicious citrus.

TANGOR (Citrus x nobilis)

Murcott — Also called Honey Murcott; flavor is remarkably rich.

Temple — Orange flesh, very juicy, rich and sprightly flavor.

hhhhhh

Wait until you try this. It’s partially made the night before the breakfast where you intend to serve it.

The Ultimate French Toast

Makes 4 servings

6 eggs

½ cup half-and-half

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice

3 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest

¼ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

— Pinch salt

8 1-inch-thick slices of high-quality bread

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the sauce:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier

— Real maple syrup, warmed

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, orange juice, zest, sugar, vanilla, Grand Marnier and a pinch of salt.

Place the bread slices in a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking dish and pour the whisked mixture over the bread, turning after a half hour to coat both sides. Chill in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with the butter and arrange the bread slices on it, leaving a couple of inches between slices.

Bake for 5 minutes on a middle rack, then rotate the pan and bake 5 more minutes. With a spatula, turn the slices over and bake5 more minutes, then rotate the sheet and bake five more minutes.

While the bread is baking, make the sauce in a saucepan by cooking the butter, marmalade and Grand Marnier over low heat until the butter melts and all is incorporated smoothly. Place two slices of the French toast on each of four plates, drizzle with the sauce, and serve with warmed real maple syrup.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and garden writer. Reach him at jeffcox@sonic.net

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