When January rolls around the selection of fresh fruit and veggies from our local growers is not as abundant as other times of the year. Winter is when local farmers try to take a little time off, plan for the upcoming season and build their beautiful soil. At both Bi-Rite’s we are so excited to celebrate California’s main winter crop, CITRUS! Cali citrus season is a wonderful joy ride from local Satsuma Mandarins in November till the “sweet like candy” Pixie Tangerines in early spring and the flavors are so unique from one variety to another. Our produce buyers are always trying to find the best tasting fruit available and they love to see how many different varieties we can get on the shelves at one time.
We also love to build relationships with farmers throughout California and promote their farming practices and amazing produce. It’s a lot easier to build these relationships with vegetable farmers because they are all over Northern California. Citrus farmers on the other hand are mainly in Central and Southern California and grow on a larger scale which leads to using distribution companies to get their fruit to the Bay Area. Citrus is also a less perishable crop and can be harvested and stored without the stress that the more perishable vegetable crops bring. Well, this isn’t completely true, citrus growers deal with plenty of stress! The freezing cold weather that hit all of California in early December actually damaged citrus crops throughout the state. This being said we are still have almost 20 varieties at our stores right now and the flavors are as delicious as ever. The peak of California season is usually in February and the Citrus Bomb at Bi-Rite will be exploding with up to 25-30 different varieties!
Moms LOVE Mandarins
One of the main reasons California citrus is the best are all the different varieties of Mandarins that are harvested for up to 5-6 months of the year. This gives all the Moms the opportunity to give their kids sweet, seedless and easy-peeling fruit as their daily treat. Mandarin season starts with the seedless Satsuma in late November and then rolls right Clementine Tangerines and the Algerian is the most common variety. We are very fortunate to get most of clementine’s from straight from the “Tangerine Man,” Jim Churchill who farms in the beautiful mountains Ojai which is just South East of Santa Barbara. Jim is a top-notch specialty citrus grower who works cooperatively with other growers in the Ojai area, helping them distribute their fruit throughout California. We are just starting to get the clementines from Ojai, along with Kishu Mandarins. These little, sweet, seedless “pop the whole thing in your mouth” mandarins are about as unique a citrus variety as you’ll see. They have the classic tangerine flavor!
Mandarins vs. Tangerines: What is the difference?
This is one most common guest question in our produce department. Not only do they both originate from China and taste and look alike but they grow on very similar trees. Tangerines are a special type of mandarin, so a tangerine can be called a mandarin but the reverse of this not true. The tangerine skin tends to be thicker with bumps and the orange color is usually a little darker.
Some of the other mandarin varieties you’ll find at Bi-Rite are the Murcott Tangerine and Page Mandarins. The Murcott Tangerines from Deer Creek Heights in Porterville about are another sweet and juicy variety but the early season fruit has a nice level of tartness for the folks who love a little extra pop. The Page Mandarin is a sweet, juicy, rich flavored cross between a Minneola Tangelo and a Clementine. They do have a few seeds but are still an ea
The Heirloom Washington Navel Oranges from Deer Creek Heights are harvested at their peak level of ripeness and offer the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Citrus like a lot of fruit that grows on trees need to develop their sugars on the tree before they are picked. A lot of commercial citrus may look good from the outside but when you bite into it they are overwhelming tart and not sweet enough. Most of the commercial growers harvest citrus according to when the market price is best and not when the flavor is the best.
The #1 selling pieces of citrus at Bi-Rite this season has been the Cara Cara Pink Navel from Tenalu in Porterville. It looks very similar to the Navel orange but when it’s cut in half the pink flesh shows that this is not your average orange. The Cara Cara is very juicy and sweet like the Navel but is not nearly as acidic. It’s one of the most versatile pieces of citrus, eats great out of hand, makes the yummy juice and when segmented goes perfectly on the winter chicories salad. The other orange variety that is great with chicories and just starting taste great is the Moro Blood Orange. This Italian variety is named after its blood-like flesh and is one of the most complex flavored pieces of citrus all year. Bloods have a nice balance of sweet/tart but also have berry tones coming through in the flavor.
For those of you who are more creative and love to get in the kitchen and make marmalades, syrups, marinades, etc., we have the Seville and Bergamot Sour Oranges. The bergamot is widely known for the oils from the rind that is used to make Earl Grey tea but both this varieties have great skin for zest.
At the market we love to find a new vegetable or fruit that might be popular at a handful of restaurants but hasn’t yet hit the grocery store scene. Grapefruits are one of these crops and growing up back east my only experience with grapefruits was cutting a red-flesh variety in half, sprinkling sugar on it and eating for breakfast. The sugar always came along to mask the bitterness of the fruit. We are lucky in California to have numerous grapefruit varieties that different flavor profiles and really change the way we can enjoy grapefruits. Cocktail Grapefruits (a cross between a Frua Mandarin and a Pomelo) from Cunningham Organic Farm in Fallbrook continue to create a buzz their delicious and much sweeter and less acidic flesh than traditional grapefruit. The Chandler Pummelos from Tenalu have beautiful large segments of flesh that aren’t overly juicy and are lot less pithy than is typical. The Oro Blanco Grapefruits is a white-flesh, low acid piece of fruit, great for eating out of hand, juicing, and in cocktails.
Citrus season at Bi-Rite is a blast and we just lit the wick some come on in and let all the terrific flavors explode your mouth!