Jewel-like and bursting with tangy, bright flavors, oranges seem almost out of place in the middle of winter. Thankfully, that’s when they’re in season and that’s when we need them most.
Oranges originated in the Far East and didn’t make their way to the West until the 11th century when they were planted in Sicily. The first trees grown there produced bitter oranges. The Portuguese brought the first sweet varieties after they discovered the ocean-route to Asia via southern Africa. It was only a matter of time before they made their way to the New World. Oranges were first planted in Haiti in 1493 and in Florida about 75 years later.
None of this answers the bigger question… where did the word “orange” come from? Surprisingly, their designation isn’t a reference to their color. Orange is derived from the Sanskrit word for the fruit “naranga.” You still see it in the Spanish word, “naranja.” Presumably, the color “orange” came from the fruit and not the other way around.
Oranges add flavor to a variety of foods, especially if you take advantage of the zest. Graters are perfect for removing the peel to be added to vinaigrettes, sauces and baked goods like brownies. Consider using orange juice in place of lemon juice for salad dressings (add a little vinegar to increase the acidic bite) or in soups or stews.
Oranges store well, and will keep in the refrigerator – in ventilated plastic bags – for up to two weeks. They’ll hold unrefrigerated for several days. Loose-skin varieties like Cuties¨ and clementines should be stored at room temperature for up to five days. If you plan to use the oranges for juice, leave them out at room temperature. You’ll get more juice that way.
Remember when oranges came in just two varieties? You either got navel oranges, which were good for eating, or Valencia, which were good for juicing. Toss in tangerines for a little excitement, and that was about it. Nowadays, the variety of oranges available has increased dramatically and each comes into season at different times, meaning that fresh citrus is available for much of the year.
blood oranges – The scarlet flesh is the first indicator that you’re in for a treat. Tangy, with hints of vanilla, blood oranges were only available as imports from Europe but now they’re grown in California. Consider using blood orange juice the next time you make Mimosas.
cara cara – Another relatively new variety in the United States, Cara Caras were named for the ranch in Venezuela where they were developed. They have a delicate pinkish-colored flesh and are sweeter than navels or Valencias with a gentle note of grapefruit.
clementine cuties® – Cuties taste uniquely sweet and tangy compared to their slightly tart tangerine cousin. Most clementines are grown in Spain; Cuties are grown in the San Joaquin Valley ensuring a juicier, sweeter and less-expensive piece of citrus than the imported varieties.
minneola tangelos – With a burst of sweet and tart juice, the Minneola tangelo is a larger citrus fruit that is typically bell shaped. Some even call this fruit “honeybell,” and it’s described as a cross between a tangerine and grapefruit.