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Kumquats are now at their prime.

Citrus seem like such summery fruits. Chilled lemonade and lemon meringue pie are best during warm weather. There are certainly plenty of lemons that ripen randomly throughout the year, and plenty that last for months on their trees. Most limes, some grapefruits and ‘Valencia’ oranges will be around in summer too. Otherwise, most citrus are at their best right about now, through winter.

Mandarin oranges are traditional ingredients of well stuffed Christmas stockings. Where winters are cold and snowy, far from where they grow, they seem contrary to their natural ripening season.

Of all the citrus, they are the most perishable, so are best as they ripen. Their loosely fitting skins, that are so easy to peel, allow them to oxidize and dehydrate more readily than other citrus fruits.

Tangerines are just Mandarin oranges that were developed in North or South America. ‘Rangpur’ limes are actually sour Mandarin oranges that are somewhat less perishable because their skins happen to fit more firmly. Calamondins, which are odd but likely natural hybrids of Mandarin oranges and kumquats, are diminutive tangy fruits that do not last much longer than Mandarin oranges.

‘Bearss’ limes are preferably harvested right as they grow to mature size, but just before they ripen completely. Their flavor mellows as they ripen and yellow. Fortunately, they develop sporadically through an extensive season, so can be available any time fresh limes are desired. Grapefruits can be left intentionally to mellow on their trees after ripening, although this tactic can inhibit bloom.

Otherwise, many citrus fruits can last for more than three months on their trees without consequence. Some improve with mellowing. ‘Meyer’ lemons, which are a hybrid of an orange and a lemon, ripen like richly flavored lemons, and then mellow like very tart oranges. Since citrus fruits stop ripening when harvested, it is advisable to taste one before harvesting too many that are not ready.

Some ripened Mandarin oranges may have slight green blotches. ‘Valencia’ oranges may be slightly yellowish.

15 thoughts on “Citrus Are Summery Winter Fruits

    1. I am actually impressed with how fast they get into supermarkets from some of the far away places where they are grown. I suspect that some are sealed with anti-desiccants. I believe that fancier Mandarin oranges are sold in markets with a bit of stem and a pair of leaves attached because the removal of the stem so easily breaks the seal of the skin, and sometimes removes a bit of skin with it. The stem could be cut, like they are for the common ‘tangerines’, but leaving it is probably more of a tradition now. I think it is odd because the leaves are always shriveled.

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    1. It is rad with ‘Meyer’ lemon. it is like half lemon and half orange ‘Meyer’ lemon was our most popular cultivar, but also my least favorite to grow. Lemon merengue pie with ‘Rangpur’ lime is excellent too! ‘Rangpur’ lime is a sour Mandarin orange, so is like half lemon and half Mandarin orange.

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  1. My father was a citrus farmer and now my sister and brother are both in the business. I grew up with lemons, oranges, mandarins and grapefruit all around our house, 30 acres of them. We children would pick late lemons, which had been passed over during the main picking, during Easter break from school. But only as an adult, and continually since I left home, have I learned very much about the fruit.

    Just last week I was doing research yet again on behalf of a neighbor who has a young Meyer Lemon tree (in our family these were scorned as untrue), trying to learn whether Meyers are like the fruit I know, which remains on the tree sometimes (I know this of grapefruit) until and in companionship with the next year’s fruit. Another friend in our area said yes, she has Meyers most of the year.

    I should have known to ask you!

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    1. How amusing that you recognized the ‘Meyer’ for what it is. I did not grow the fruit, but dwarf trees for home gardening. ‘Meyer’ lemon was our most popular cultivar. I understand why people like it, but I sort of don’t. Even the growth habit is unappealing. It should be pretty like oranges and Mandarin oranges. Their flavor changes as they linger on the tree. It becomes more orange like, and less acidic. A well stocked tree provides a few options, with fresher lemons if acidic juice is needed, and older lemons that are like sour oranges. ‘Marsh’ grapefruit, which is my favorite grapefruit, mellows with age, but mine never lasted that long.

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      1. I used to try to visit my family in Tulare County in the winter so that I could also bring back boxes full of mandarins and grapefruit and anything ripe. There are still three huge mandarin trees on the property, of two varieties, and no one was eating them, so one year I made gallons of juice and froze it – it was surprisingly wonderful all through the summer months.

        At one time my father tended ten acres of lemons, probably Eureka, but no one knows for sure now. When he replaced them with oranges, because he lost the whole crop of lemons to frost too often, he kept two lemon trees so we could continue to have plenty; my dad would make lemon marmalade 🙂 . But the man who eventually bought that part of the property had the factory farm mentality and replaced those, too. I call that Horridculture!

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      2. Ah, factory farms. How sad. How horrid. It takes much of the fun out of that sort of work. ‘Lisbon’ lemon used to be the common orchard lemon because it was so extremely productive within season. ‘Eureka’ was a mutant of ‘Lisbon’ that was popularized for home gardens because it compensated for diminished production in season by producing spontaneously and randomly throughout the year. In the end, ‘Eureka’ produces about as much as ‘Lisbon’. It just spreads it out a bit through the year. Anyway, ‘Eureka’ eventually became popular in orchards because it provided for a few minor harvests after the main seasonal harvest. Citrus juice freezes very well, but gets ruined by canning. The neighbors ‘Marsh’ grapefruits were the main reason that I kept a freezer in my former kitchen.

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      3. Oh, thank you for telling me about the Lisbon lemon. Maybe that was what he grew… The grove, I believe, was there when he bought the property in 1956. I never thought about varieties of lemons and no one mentioned any names, until I was ready to buy a tree of my own, and wanted to get the real deal with the most intense lemon flavor!

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      4. ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Eureka’ are indistinguishable, except that ‘Lisbon’ produces more exclusively in season, and ‘Eureka’ produces only mostly in season, as well as throughout the year. ‘Eureka’ is preferred for home gardening because it always has ripe lemons on it. No one really wants all their lemons at once anyway.

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  2. I wondered what the connection was, if any, between mandarin oranges and tangerines. One year we were in Turkey over Christmas and there were mandarin orange trees everywhere. Also that’s news to me about Meyer lemons.

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    1. It still seems silly to me that cultivars of what would be know as Mandarin oranges if they had been developed anywhere else must be known as tangerines if they were developed in North or South America. Tangier is in Morocco. Years ago, what had been known as ‘champagne’ that was made in California was designated as ‘sparkling wine’. Real ‘champagne’ is made only in the Champagne region of France. That makes sense. If tangerines are known as such because they were not developed in the ‘Mandarin’ region of China, why are those developed in Japan or Algeria known as ‘Mandarin oranges’? That makes about as much sense as the ‘Carpathian’ English but really Persian walnuts.

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      1. I never connected “tangerines” with Tangiers! There is a recent Russian movie called Mandarines about a farmer trying to harvest his fruit while surviving the ethnic/national warfare in the Caucasus Mountains.

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      2. The Caucasus Mountains seem like an odd place to grow Mandarin oranges. I suppose the southern slopes are at about the same latitude as Italy, Spain, Portugal and the northern edge of Greece.

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