Every year, Mother Nature takes the sun and puts it in a neat, sweet, package just when we need it. All summer long, citrus trees throughout the country convert the long, warm days into a bountiful harvest of citrus treats. The harvest season for citrus is long; in fact, it’s hard to find a time of year when we are not harvesting some kind of lemon, tangerine, orange, or grapefruit. But the late fall brings a bumper crop of fruit that has had the whole of summer to sweeten and mature; and as the weather cools, the first of this wonderful fruit starts to come off the trees.
Citrus, like many popular fruit categories, has year-round availability courtesy of Southern Hemisphere production. And while the transition from import to domestic is difficult to pinpoint exactly, October is usually the month when we see the last of the fruit from South America and Australia for the season. By the end of October we start to see harvests beginning in the citrus-producing states throughout the U.S. Tangerines are typically the first of the fall-harvest fruits to come off, but we also start to see increased production in grapefruit from Florida followed by Texas grapefruit later in the fall.
New-crop domestic citrus comes at the perfect time for fall snacks and as part of meals. Not only do they pack an additional vitamin C punch to help us through the cold and flu season, but citrus (particularly tangerines and mandarins) add a new flavor element to salads that start to lose some summertime ingredients at the same time. Satsuma mandarins, for example, are my favorite replacement for cherry tomatoes in my fall salads.
Citrus needs lots of heat and sunshine to grow and a period of cooler temperatures at the end right before harvest for the fruit to color and the flavor (sugar and acid) to balance. This year it looks like some growing districts are off to an early start, so look for new-crop domestic citrus in your local store this week.
— James Parker, global associate perishables coordinator