No, no — not those. I’ll probably watch them on TV in a week or so.
I’m talking about fruit, the yellow/golden/orange colored stuff that is so ubiquitous at this time of year. Do you start to crave it, as I do, perhaps as an antidote to all of that heavy, rich comfort food that you have been lapping up in the cold weather? Or is it the lack of light in this grey period after Christmas that gets us thinking about sunshine and longing for something warm and bright?
It seems a special benison, then, that this is the season when navel oranges, tangerines, mandarins, clementines and that peculiar hybrid, the tangelo, are all at their juiciest and tastiest best.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with these fruits. Suffice it to say that one of my favorite palate clearing salads at this time of year combines oranges and fennel. Ignore all of those recipes that add black olives and red onion and other distractions — this is about the pure, tangy sweet fruit flavour. Just start with 5 or 6 navel oranges sliced crosswise. (Make sure you remove the pith!) Add 3 – 4 thinly sliced fennel bulbs (You can add the shredded fronds as a garnish if you want to make it look extra pretty.) Toss with a dressing made from one tablespoon white wine vinegar combined with 2 tablespoons olive oil, a little coarse salt (crunchy Maldon is nice) and some freshly ground pepper. And voilà — a refreshing and delicious salad for a buffet or for your own healthy lunch.
That other brightly colored citrus available at this time of year is the Meyer lemon. The Meyer lemon comes from California(and the cost reflects that). It is rounder than the conventional lemon and has a smooth, bright-yellow rind that darkens to orange-yellow as it ripens. Its juicy yellow-orange pulp has about four times the sugar of a regular lemon with just enough acidity to give it a refreshing tang.
It’s originally from China and was introduced to North America by someone named Frank Meyer, a plant explorer for the United States Department of Agriculture, who had the enviable job of roaming the world foraging for exotic plants to bring back to America. (Meyer later disappeared mysteriously from a steamer on the Yangtze River in 1918.) The original fruit was considered too delicate to cultivate commercially until the 1960’s when the improved lemon became popular in American gardens. By the 1980’s chefs had discovered the fruit’s sweeter, orange/lemon taste with flowery overtones, a flavour that makes it perfect for sweet lemon desserts. (Don’t substitute it for regular lemons which are more tart and acidic.)
Here’s a simple recipe to try out — you can either eat this by the spoonful like pudding or spread it on toast or scones or biscuits.
Meyer Lemon Curd
3- 4 Meyer lemons
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 stick unsalted butter cut into 4 pieces
1) Finely grate 2 tsp. of zest from the lemons and squeeze enough juice to measure 1/2 cup.
2) Whisk together zest, juice, sugar and eggs in a metal bowl and add butter.
3) Warm slowly over a bowl of water, whisking until thickened and smooth and a thermometer reads 160 degrees — about 5 minutes.
4) Force curd through a fine sieve. Serve cool or warm.
And if you don’t like citrus, here is one more golden fruit that may be new to you:
The persimmon originates in Asia, was first grown in America in California, and is now grown in a few protected places on the Niagara Peninsula. It is at its best in late fall, from October to the end of December. There are two main kinds of persimmons — the Fuyu and the Hachiya. The Fuyu is flattened, something like a tomato, and you can eat it at an early stage when it has turned orange, but the inside is still crunchy.
The Hachiya requires more patience. It has a sort of pointed fruit and when unripe is highly astringent, i.e., biting into it will leave you with a permanent pucker for maybe half a day. To be edible, then, it must be very ripe with the flesh soft and mushy. The messy pulp is best used for baking, for muffins, breads, pancakes, cookies or puddings.
The flavour of a persimmon has been described as a cross between a mango and an apricot. Here’s a recipe that uses both types.
from Gourmet magazine, December, 2003.
2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 tsp. water
2 cups Hachiya persimmon purée
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 cup chilled heavy cream
6 oz. firm Fuyu persimmons
1) Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small heatproof cup and let stand 1 minute to soften.
2) Stir together persimmon purée, sugar, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a bowl until sugar is dissolved.
3) Melt softened gelatin in a cup, set in a saucepan of simmering water, then stir in persimmon purée.
4) Beat cream in another bowl with an electric mixer until it holds stiff peaks, then gently fold into purée. Divide fool among 4 stemmed glasses and chill, covered at least 8 hours.
5) Just before serving, peel Fuyu persimmons, seeding if necessary, and chop. Top fool with chopped persimmons.
This makes about 2 1/4 cups. The Hachiya persimmons must be very ripe to purée – you can do this in a blender, or force it through a sieve. The dessert can be chilled for up to 24 hours, so is fine to make a day in advance.
Best wishes for a safe and happy new year.