Monday, February 12, 2007

There’s nothing like an orange in the dead of winter. A bright, oily, firm one; full of color and heavy with juice. Especially right at this moment, when everything is dry, dry, dry, and cold. When the trees are brittle and skeletal, and there’s a thin layer of gray dust on the sidewalks. When the sky looks that way too, and my own skin feels as if it’s cracking like shale.

This is the time that I appreciate an orange like no other. Never before in my life have I particularly cared for oranges, I suppose because I previously just took them for granted, like apples or milk. But here in the Northwest, I’ve begun to take notice of them—on menus, in the market, and have slowly been filling my fridge with them (I’ve been fortunate, because of my renewed employment with an organic produce company, to obtain a variety of freebies).

While home on Kauai in January, one of the things that I most looked forward to and enjoyed, were the tangelos off of the tree in my Mom’s front yard. My favorite fruit, the tangelo. Nothing is juicier. And with very little acid, it produces the most mouthwatering juice. I swear that they taste better the closer to the time that you pick them too, so I’d walk out and pick them in my pajamas in the cool air of the morning before I juiced them for breakfast. Never have I felt bitterness towards the strict agricultural laws that keep plant species out of, and in, the state of Hawaii, until I left Kauai without any fresh fruit in my bag. How I would have enjoyed those tangelos up here in Portland...

The first citrus to come into season on the mainland (I assume that all of this fruit is coming from California) were the Meyer lemons (used on menus in a sauce, or a dessert like cheesecake), then Satsuma oranges on salads. These days, I’ve seen and tasted blood oranges, minneola tangerines, and just plain old navel oranges, which, when organic, are positively bursting with flavor right now. In the winter, their juice is so life giving—just the perfume that explodes while peeling them awakens dulled, doughy senses.

Because of their vibrancy, I think, citrus is abuzz on many tongues around here—I’ve heard of friends returning from road trips to California with gifts of treasured fruit from southern farms. And someone recently mentioned a new fruit in the market here, called the “citrus cocktail”—some hybrid that takes the most desirable elements from lemons, oranges and grapefruit (thanks to a hard working Willy Wonka of the plant world out there).

The other evening, no doubt after eating some snack accompanied by orange slices (slices of orange are so perfect with or after anything heavy or fatty—meat, cheese, etc. I’ve heard of them being brought out unadorned as the closing course to a hefty Italian meal), I picked up my copy of “A Moveable Feast,” and found that even Hemmingway deemed citrus fruit worthy of writing about. He wrote of his experience living in Paris in the wintertime, “The fireplace drew well in the room and it was warm and pleasant to work. I brought mandarines and roasted chesnuts to the room in paper packets and peeled and ate the small tangerine-like oranges and threw their skins and spat their seeds into the fire when I ate them and roasted chesnuts when I was hungry...sometimes when I was starting a new story and could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the little sputter of blue that they made.”

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