Getting to Know: Winter Fruits
In the 19th century, an orange in a Christmas stocking was a rare treat for American children. Nowadays, winter offers a wide variety of fruit. Here are 12 that are at their best from October through February.
Tangerines are named for the Moroccan city of Tangier and are part of the mandarin family, all members of which have loose, easily removable skin, hence the nickname “kid glove” oranges. They are the most common mandarin in the United States. We like chopped tangerines in salads or relishes (but watch out for the plentiful seeds) or juiced for a tangy, citrus-spiked stir-fry.
Today grapefruit—whether white, red, or pink—is a breakfast staple, but it was unknown in this country before the 18th century. That’s when a cross between an orange and a pummelo (a thick-skinned, cantaloupe-or-bigger-size citrus) gave birth to the sweet-tart grapefruit. Try grapefruit in salsa, relishes, and salads.
The navel orange is seedless, easy to peel, and notably sweet and juicy. Its name comes from the blossom end’s resemblance to (what else?) a human navel. From flavoring cakes to rice pilafs to vinaigrettes, this orange has dozens of uses, and the zest and juice are as flavorful as the flesh. We use a rasp-style grater to zest it, freezing the zest for up to one month; the flavor declines minimally, and it’s convenient to have at the ready.
If you’ve tasted bracingly bitter Seville orange marmalade, you’ve eaten sour oranges. This orange is also used in much Latin American cooking, which is why in this country you see it in Latin food stores. Use the juice from sour oranges (along with oregano, garlic, and cumin) to make a tasty marinade for grilled chicken. If you can’t find it, use a test kitchen trick to mimic its flavor: Combine lime and orange zests with ordinary orange juice.
This pygmy of the citrus family is about the size of an olive, and the entire fruit, from peel to flesh, is edible. It’s actually the sweeter rind—not the tart, dry flesh—that houses most of the flavor. Kumquats are often candied or pickled; alternatively, we suggest slicing or halving and seeding them before adding them to desserts or baked goods.
Prickly pears, aka
tunas, are full of crunchy little edible seeds and taste like melon. The fruit—the berry of the prickly pear cactus—is common in the Southwest. If you run across these pears at the market, the spines will probably have been removed (and that’s a good thing). Use prickly pears to make jams or marmalade, or enjoy them the traditional Mexican way: raw—peeled and sliced—with a squeeze of lime.
Sweet, creamy persimmons taste like a luscious cross between pumpkins, fresh dates, and plums. Supermarkets carry the acorn-shaped Hachiya (pictured here) and the round Fuyu persimmon, both from Asia. The Hachiya must be extremely soft and squishy before you eat it or its tannins will dry out your mouth; the Fuyu can be eaten sliced while firm-tender. North America has a native persimmon, too. While you won’t find it at the grocery store, it accounts for the many old American recipes for persimmon pudding.
From the outside, a blood orange looks like an ordinary orange. Expose its crimson flesh, however, and you’ll appreciate the macabre name. Enjoy its striking color and wonderful sweet-tart flavor juiced or sectioned into salads. To segment, cut off the ends of the fruit so that it stands flat, cut away the peel and pith, and insert your paring knife between each segment and membrane—on both sides—until the segments fall free.
The hundreds of small, sparkling crimson kernels inside a pomegranate are tart, slightly crunchy, and completely edible—seed and all. To release the kernels with less mess (the juice stains), halve the pomegranate and submerge it in a bowl of water. As you gently pull it apart, the seeds will sink, separating from the bitter pith and membrane that hold them. Use the seeds in green or fruit salads or to top a pudding or a custard pie.
The fragrant quince was once commonplace in American kitchens. No more—a pity. Although hard, dry, and astringent when raw, quince is delicious cooked. Peel and poach for tarts or compotes; roast to serve alongside meats; or add a few slices to your next apple pie. Thanks to loads of pectin (a natural thickener), quince is also ideal for jams, jellies, and preserves.
Unshackle the cranberry! Sure, it’s great in sauce for Thanksgiving, but this berry can go way beyond the bird. For starters, try pairing cranberry sauce with pork. In the test kitchen, we also like to add cranberries to apple pie or apple crisp. During the fall and winter, cranberries are sold fresh, but the frozen ones—available year-round—work equally well for cooking.
Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably encountered the satsuma: It’s the fruit sold in cans as mandarin oranges. (It is in the mandarin family.) In that form, the satsuma mostly tastes like sugar, but eaten fresh, this (admittedly sweet) Japanese citrus has a distinct tropical fruit flavor. Try layering thinly sliced satsumas in an upside-down cake.