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Cara Cara Oranges

Cara Cara Oranges

Chef Clyde Serda | Chef's Blade

With my life long alliance with farmers and growers of vegetables and produce in California, I try not to purchase fruit from another country (the hell with NAFTA), no less from another hemisphere. But why? Well, first ask any American grower how much produce we send to foreign countries and which countries we send to and you’ll find it’s not to the countries that give us that bounty of produce in our supermarkets during our winter months. Of course, if there is a produce item that we don’t grow, to me that’s acceptable. But, how many times have you purchased a peach, plum, apricot or any other summer fruit in February, only to find that it’s mealy, pithy, and without its natural juice or ripened flavor. That is because it is picked green and forced to ripen off the vine. Okay, I am getting off my soapbox now and will get to the real reason for this article. I was at the well-known membership warehouse market looking for oranges or some fruit from the good old U.S. of A. They had oranges, pears, grapes, and plums all from either Chile or Argentina, so I nixed them and picked up a few bags of Cara Cara oranges, which were grown and packed in California. I come from a long line of citrus and fruit growers who have hundreds of acres in the bountiful Central Valley. However, I had never heard of a Cara Cara, with exception of the bird from our southwest and Mexico.

We are fortunate to have many different varieties of citrus, which we abundantly grow in the U.S. They are in several categories: Oranges, Tangerines (which include Mandarins), Grapefruits, Lemons and Limes.

All of the oranges and most of the citrus we know today have been grafted or hybridized from either sweet or bitter oranges. In some cases they have been blended with grapefruits or lemons to choose the proper rootstock and bud stock for the type of fruit and location where it’s to be grown. I have an uncle who has a huge citrus tree in his backyard, which he started about 45 years ago. On the bottom limbs which hang close to the ground are Pomelos, a few branches up are alternating Ruby or Gold Grapefruit, above them are huge Navels which grow about the size of grapefruits, above them are the Valencia, then Lemons, and then the Moro Blood Oranges, then Tangelos, which have Tangerines above them and on the very top are the Kumquats. This tree is fun to look at. There are different colors and sizes of fruit ready for the picking all year-round. And yes, they all taste just like they should. He is a Master-Grafter and citrus grower in Lindsay, California. On a side note: He was also the first American to be recognized as “The Official Fruit Purveyor to The Queen Of England.”

Oranges are not a species. No original wild orange has ever been discovered. It is believed that the modern orange was a cross between the Pomelo and the Tangerine. Sweet oranges have been given a horticulture name of convince “Citrus sinensis Osbeck.” Another designation for the fruit is Citrus X aurantium, which covers both sour and sweet oranges as well as the pomelo. There are really two types of oranges; the type easy to peel like the Navel and those with fixed skin such as the Valencia.

The Navel orange has a medium to thick skin and white membrane, which is easily removed revealing the orange segments. Oranges contain huge amounts of carotene (that’s what makes them orange). They are usually available fresh from November thru May; from before and after they would have been held in cold storage or imported. The largest producer of Naval oranges is Brazil with the United States a close second. They get their name from the orange’s twin, which forms the belly button or navel where the bud would have been. Navel oranges are seedless and are considered the best of the eating oranges, both for flavor and sweetness, which is usually balanced with a light acid or sour taste. Navel oranges may be juiced, but the juice should be consumed shortly after squeezing, otherwise the juice has a tendency to turn slightly bitter.