Finding Sunshine

Clockwise from center: pomelo, lemon, limes, juicing orange, white grapefruit.
We visit our local farmer’s markets on a regular basis. But when the winter doldrums hit, we stop by nearly as much for a quick mental pick-me-up as we do for the tasty offerings.
The slightly humid warmth, the fresh fragrances, the stacks of local and imported produce, and the jars of pickles, jams and jellies, hearken back to summer’s bounty. we always leave feeling refreshed, and reconnected with the earth.

Fresh tropical produce at local farmer's market
One of the many aisles of fresh, affordable produce at Blueberry Farm.
Blueberry Farm, our local independent farmer’s market, is only a few blocks away. A wide assortment of local and imported produce is always available, along with fresh fish, locally-produced smoked meats, and many interesting specialty items favored by the local Polish community.

Today's arrival of Florida citrus is the cure for a chilly winter weekend in. Winter fruits add a welcome respite from the neutral-toned foods available this time of year.

First up: limes. These fragrant orbs with their bright acidity should be a kitchen mainstay for anyone fond of South American or Asian food. Persian limes (the most common ones) are available year-round, but they are usually best-tasting in the winter months.

When selecting fresh limes, look for smooth-skinned ones which are heavy for their size, with no brown spots. Perfect coloring does not indicate perfect juice, so feel free to select pale  or unevenly green fruits. Older and more mature limes are less juicy and quite often rather bitter.  Our trick for avoiding dried-out limes: a gentle squeeze. Juicy limes give slightly when pressed.

Next up: lemons. Today, the market is featuring "Eureka" lemons, a very common variety available year-round. The ideal lemon is on the smaller side (about 3 inches long tip to stem-end), heavy for its size, with a bright, shiny, thin skin. Just as with limes, a gentle squeeze is the test for juiciness.

A few bins down, we spot juicing oranges, a rarity in this day and age of picture-perfect fruits. Juice oranges from Florida are at their peak between December and April. Unlike navel oranges, they have blemished and unevenly-colored skins: select fruit that's fragrant, heavy for its size, and free of soft spots. While we're at it, we pick up a few indescribably sweet honey tangerines, which are in season from October to April. Mix the two juices together (1:1 ratio), and enjoy the sweet juice as a sunny breakfast accompaniment, or as an ingredient for more spiritous libations.

USA-grown blood oranges are nicely arranged in a nearby basket. Blood oranges are in season from November through May. The deep crimson-colored flesh is sweeter than other oranges, with hints of raspberry. Blood oranges should be fragrant, firm, plump, or heavy for their size. These particular ones are not. Sadly, we pass them by.

Around the corner, our shopping trip’s primary purpose nearly fills the aisle. Grapefruit is in season from October through May, but keeps well in cold storage, so it’s available year-round. Most stores stock sweet Ruby reds, and we are delighted to see small but perfect white grapefruits. White grapefruits are more acidic, perfect for cocktails. Most of our selected citrus is destined to be key ingredients in both the Test Pilot and Jet Pilot cocktails: we pick out grapefruits that are heavy for their size with smooth (not pebbly) skin,

We are almost at the register when we spot our new favorite: the pumelo. We bought one last month and discovered that pumelo tastes like a sweet, mild grapefruit with very little bitterness. They also have proportionately less juice than a grapefruit.

These are the Chandler variety from California, available in January and February. We pick out a nice-looking, heavy pomelo, and head to the cashier, the basket of sunshine ensuring a sunny afternoon, no matter what the weather.

Clockwise from center: pomelo, lemon, limes, juicing orange, white grapefruit.