BELOVED CITRUS. GIVEN OUR TEMPERATE Southern California climate, citrus quickly became the foundation of our garden. We built planters to raise the semi-dwarfs onto a pedestal and allow their roots to stretch and meander. We designed curved pathways to bring visitors brushing past the sweet scents of lemon blossoms. We placed trellises where the candylike tangerines could overgrow and dangle their fruit within easy grasp.
Because we have had the good fortune to be able to grow our own citrus, it’s nearly impossible not to be infatuated with them. There truly is nothing like citrus picked fresh off the tree: oranges packed with sweet juices that drip down your forearms as you cut them open, lemons with oils so saturated in their rinds that with one slice they can be smelled across the room, a tangerine left on the tree to sweeten through midsummer, gently warmed by the sun and enjoyed alongside a morning cappuccino.
Citrus plays a vital role in our daily eating and drinking. Life without citrus is like life without music or sunshine. It brings joy and brightness into the kitchen and onto our plates. Just think of all of the diverse recipes you’re able to create using citrus: warm lemon madeleine cookies nestled onto a plate and served with hot tea. Brilliant orange kumquat marmalade spread atop English muffins or served next to slices of brie. Cocktails, dressings, and desserts seem almost unthinkable without the use of citrus zest, juice, and flesh.
Those able to find or grow some of the less common varieties can take an already delicious dish to extraordinary heights. A watercress salad with the addition of some slices of oro blanco (a grapefruit-pomelo cross) is unforgettable. The less acidic floral offspring of the grapefruit lends a perfect balance of sweetness and tartness to the dish.
Tasting a fresh yuzu is an extraordinary experience. I remember slicing open the first one off our tree. Diane was coming down the hall, more than thirty feet away, and exclaimed, “What is that amazing smell?” That fragrant explosion alone is worth hunting down a nursery that can get you a yuzu tree.
© 2013 All rights reserved. Published by Abrams Books.