UNITED STATES—Chilled lemonade certainly is nice when the weather gets warm during summer. Orange juice also seems to be more appropriate to warm weather. In fact, most citrus fruit seems to be more summery than wintery. Yet, most of it ripens through winter. Mandarin oranges are more perishable than most other citrus fruit, so are best long before warmer weather.
Citrus trees are defiantly contrary to the deciduous fruit trees that produce fruits of spring and summer. Not only does their fruit ripen during opposite seasons, but they also prefer pruning during opposite seasons. Many need no pruning or only minor grooming as they age. Any necessary pruning should happen after the last cool or frosty weather of winter.
Citrus fruit is not as perishable as spring and summer fruit are. Mandarin oranges oxidize within a month or so only because their rind is so loose. Other citrus fruit remains fresh in the garden for months, even thru warm weather. Some actually improves with a bit of aging. For fruit that lingers late, vermin are more likely to be a problem than deterioration.
Citrus fruit is much more accommodating than summer fruit.
Slow deterioration is a major advantage for such abundant citrus fruit. There is less rush to collect more after collecting too much. For more sporadic production, many cultivars of citrus bloom sporadically prior to and after their primary season. ‘Eureka’ lemon is not too overwhelmingly productive in season, but before and after, provides a few more lemons.
Citrus fruit are remarkably diverse. Many are best simply for fresh eating. Many are better for juicing. Some are best for other culinary applications. Mandarin oranges and oranges are basically sweet. Lemons and limes are basically sour. Grapefruits are basically bitter. Citrus fruit exhibits a prevalence within combination of these three basic flavor elements.
Citrus trees are as variable as the citrus fruit that they provide. Almost all are dwarf trees, which stay more compact than standard orchard trees. However, ‘Eureka’ lemon, ‘Marsh’ grapefruit and ‘Sanguinelli’ blood orange can eventually get as big as small shade trees. ‘Meyer’ lemon, kumquats and most Mandarin oranges remain much lower and shrubbier. Some are thornier than others.
Highlight: Mandarin Orange
Mandarin orange, Citrus reticulata, and nuts are some of the more traditional goodies for Christmas stockings. In Northern Europe centuries ago, nuts from the Americas were still exotic treats. The availability of perishable citrus fruits from Mediterranean regions relied on expensively efficient shipping. Consequently, citrus fruits were almost like delicacies. Even when shipping was slow, Mandarin oranges ripened in time to arrive by Christmas. However, they needed fast shipping because they are more perishable than other citrus. They are innately more prone to oxidation because their rind and segments fit so loosely together. Of course, that is why they are so delightfully easy to peel, pull apart and share.
Mandarin oranges are smaller, more oblate, brighter orange, but also more variable than common sweet oranges. Among their many cultivars, their smaller leaves and thorniness are likewise variable. Very few very old trees grow taller than 15 feet. Tangerines are merely barely genetically distinct Mandarin oranges that developed within the Americas.
Tony Tomeo can be contacted at tonytomeo.com.