California grows more varieties of citrus than any other state— from the large Valencia Orange orchards near the border of Mexico, to the small Satsuma Mandarin orchards in the foothills of the Sierra. There’s a flavor for everyone! At Bi-Rite we strive to have a wide selection of great tasting and sustainably grown citrus that can be eaten in a number of different ways.
Mandarin season usually starts in California in the beginning of November with the easy-peeling, refreshing Satsuma Mandarin and ends with the seedless, candy-like Pixie Tangerine in April. There are a handful of other varieties that hit the Bi-Rite shelves in the interim. The little seedless Kishu Mandarin from the mountains of Ojai, California has everyone excited from neighborhood kindergarteners to world-class San Francisco Chefs. Toss it in a green salad or a fried rice dish to add a sweet and juicy flare. Some of the other mandarin varieties that are just making their way to the market: Gold Nuggets, Murcotts, Pages and Clementine. All of these exciting mandarin varieties also make for a fun time with the juicing machine.
There are three varieties of oranges right now that are so delicious it’s hard not to eat all three on a regular basis and spread the love. Cara Cara Oranges, aka the Pink Navels — from Tenalu Farm in Porterville, California — have been out of this world and their middle acid and sweet juicy flavor make them a perfect addition to a chicory salad. Tenalu also grows wonderful Heirloom Navel Oranges that have a little more acid than the Cara Cara but are also a bit sweeter. The Moro Blood Oranges are just getting started and with their nicely balanced sweet/tart flavor and berry-like tones they may be the most versatile piece of citrus in the kitchen. The Fennel, Blood Orange, Avocado Salad from our cook book Eat Good Food is great recipe if you’re looking for a quick and easy seasonal salad.
The days of cutting a Florida grapefruit in half and sprinkling sugar on it to cut the bitterness before gobbling it up with a spoon are over. The grapefruit scene has come a long way since the mid-80’s and the Bi-Rite produce crew is super excited about a few varieties that have become a big part of our citrus selection. For folks who just want an everyday grapefruit we always have a Star Ruby Grapefruit from Bernard Ranch in Riverside, California with its beautiful dark pink flesh and sweet/tart flavor. Bi-Rite staff have been rallying around the Pomelo from Tenalu Farm this year. This large piece of citrus is perfect for folks who want a mild sweetness and not an overwhelming amount of juice. The Cocktail Grapefruit from Cunningham Orchard in Fallbrook, California is a very unique piece of fruit. This cross between a Siamese Sweet Pomelo and Frua Mandarin produces the most amazing sub-acid sweet juice perfect for cocktails, syrups, sauces, and more.
It’s OK to be Sour
Sour oranges are the most unique California citrus crop and call for some creativity in the kitchen. The Seville Orange with its thick bumpy skin smells like a regular orange but the flavor is tart and sour. Sevilles have very oily skin that is used for essential oils. The most common use for Seville Oranges is marmalade, but it also works well in syrups, vinaigrettes and cocktails. The Bergamot Orange is a cross between a sour orange and lemon, most commonly known for the oil from the skin that is used in Earl Grey tea. The zest is used to flavor cakes and cookies and the juice is used for syrups, cocktails, and jams.
California citrus season is a 5 to 6 month long tasting journey that offers so many marvelous flavors. At Bi-Rite we love to celebrate this time of year with the “Citrus Explosion” by offering over 20 varieties in our produce department at one time. If you would like to learn more about this incredible crop please make your way to one of our produce departments and ask for a sample of all the varieties we have in-house!