As the longest night of the year gets closer, my body craves citrus. Sweet, acidic, floral, and delicious, the markets are gearing up to churn out more than the present Satsuma mandarin explosion - pomelos, kumquats, navels, blood oranges, and grapefruit are all on their way. Perfect timing! Just as the days shorten and I start to miss central heating here in Northern California, these immunity boosters arrive at local markets.
For a Midwesterner like myself, navel oranges from California (back then from Orange County no doubt), or Florida, were a special treat that I have fond memories of during the holidays. I used to get three brightly-waxed navels in my stocking, a tradition that as a kid I considered a gip in the toy department since they filled half of the stocking. Regardless, receiving them as a gift made me aware of the preciousness of seasonality. We didn’t eat citrus year-round and citrus certainly wasn't grown locally. But the navels were oh-so-much more than a tradition handed down over generations, they were an omen of good health as each navels’ contents – cleverly packaged in a compostable wrapper – would help me in my daily battle against colds. And while navels might not be viewed as such a novelty with today's digital gift options, they still have a place at the table. In fact, oranges are the most consumed fruit per capita in the U.S. with Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas growing a projected 11.7 million tons this season alone. And we need it.
Unlike other mammals that can produce vitamin C, humans must eat two mandarins per day, or other equivalent citrus, to get our daily recommended dose (90 mg per day for men and 75 mg per day for women). And being that vitamin C is water-soluble, if there are leftovers that our body can't use immediately to strengthen our immune system, to catch free radicals, or to repair our cells and tissue, they are expelled.
For me, eating enough citrus during these colds months is not a problem. Proven by the sheer quantity of mandarins that I eat in one sitting, and by my obsessive plotting to perfect marmalade, I'm sure to be eating enough citrus for two adults' daily allowances. Citrus is also starting to show up at seasonally inclined restaurants with beautifully manicured sections of citrus tossed in salads with roasted nuts (see recipe below). And in the coming weeks, the varieties and quantities offered at such establishments and markets are only going to expand. This is a very good thing. After all, our bodies have evolved with this fruit so that when we need it the most, it is most abundant.
arugula & citrus salad
4 servings * prep time 20 minutes * nutritional benefits: vitamins C, A, and K
1 large bunch of arugula, approximately 4 cups, washed and stemmed
1/3 cup toasted chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
1 large grapefruit, or, 4 mandarins sectioned (see below for instructions)
grated Parmesan (optional)
1 tbsp lemon juice
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
salt and pepper to taste
1. section the citrus and set aside
2. wash and clean arugula, remove the stems and chop
3. toss arugula and citrus with dressing and top with nuts
Sectioning: First, get a really sharp knife. It helps! Second, remove the peel and outside membrane of the fruit by cutting off the peel, from top to bottom. Then, sectioning begins. Cut between each wedge of the membrane to remove each section without the skin, and voila! You have successfully sectioned citrus.
Photo: Farmer Emily Thacher Ayala, Friends’ Ranch, Ojai, CA