Farmers Market Update: Citrus!

by | Jan 8, 2009


Winter fruits are different from summer fruits and the undisputed king of winter is the citrus genus. Here in San Francisco we should feel thankful to have such a great bounty to start the New Year. Don’t forget the freeze that killed California’s citrus crop back in January 2007.

This week the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market had all the basics–oranges, grapefruits, clementines, lemons, limes–but half the fun is trying all the unusual varieties available.

Pomelos look like giant grapefruits with super thick skin. They come in several different varietals, each with a unique flavor and juiciness level. Interestingly, I find the less juicy pomelos to be the sweetest. You can eat them without making a complete mess of your hands and each individual pulp is like a little balloon filled with liquid candy.

At the farmers market you can find yellow, white, pink and green pomelos, and the skin color does not necessarily correspond with the color of the flesh inside. I think the green pomelos with pink flesh are my favorite, but they are all great. Eat them plain or add them to a refreshing winter salad, just be sure to remove the thick membranes that separate the sections.

Even oranges become deceptively interesting when you get them from local farmers. On the outside Cara cara oranges are virtually indistinguishable from navel oranges, but inside the flesh is pink like a ruby grapefruit. Blood oranges–great for juicing–are prized for their deep red flesh and richer taste.

For me one of the most surprising things I have discovered about citrus fruit is that lemons and limes are not always as pucker-inducing as you might guess. Meyer lemons taste like they have already been sugared and baked into a meringue pie. The juice is a little tart (though still drinkable) but the skin is so sweet and flavorful you have to try it to believe it. I zest it into everything this time of year.

One of the truly bizarre fruits of winter is the Fingered citron. Also known as Buddha’s hand, these large, tentacle-covered citrus fruits are primarily ornamental but can be used for their zest. Wikipedia claims that in Chinese and Japanese cultures they are sometimes used as air fresheners. Their white pith is not bitter as in most citrus fruits, so the “fingers” can be cut off and used in cooking. You might want to pick one of these up if you are entertaining or decorating your dining room or kitchen. They would make an interesting and unique centerpiece for a table.

Winter cruciferous vegetables are also abundant right now at the market. The cruciferous (Brassica) family is extremely diverse.

The term cruciferous means “cross-bearing” since the four petals of their leaves resemble a cross. Popular cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cabbage and kale, but also root vegetables such as turnips and rutabaga. Cruciferous vegetables are usually what we are talking about when we say “green leafy vegetables,” and they are thought to have anti-cancer properties.

One of the best things about going to the farmers market is discovering new things. At McEvoy Ranch today I stumbled upon something called a Tamarillo, or Tree tomato. Tamarillos are native to South America, but are also common in New Zealand and a few other countries. I have not yet busted open the one I bought, but I was told it can be eaten raw with either salt or sugar (similar to a tomato). The skin is thick, tart and not usually consumed.
And in case you have forgotten, it is still crab season!

This winter do not be afraid to stare cold weather in the face and make your way to the farmers market whenever you get the chance. You will certainly not regret your trip, particularly if you are adventurous. If you see something you are unfamiliar with ask the vendor what it is like and what you can do with it. You just might find yourself a new favorite food!

Today’s purchases:

  • Green pomelo
  • Cara cara oranges
  • Sweet lime
  • Satsuma mandarins
  • Meyer lemons
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Shinko Asian pear
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sunchokes
  • Baby bok choy
  • Romanesco
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Treviso (radicchio)
  • Shallot
  • Assorted small potatoes
  • Scharffen Berger chocolate (Tomé-Açu)

UPDATE: This article is also available at Synapse.

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10 Responses to “Farmers Market Update: Citrus!”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Props for pointing out the Tomé-Açu. Its something thats probably easy to miss, but is exactly why the SF farmers market is the best in the nation.

  2. Mike says:

    I’ve seen your farmers market potato pictures- you wrote that you bought assorted potatoes, does that mean you bought them in one of those generic bags or did you pick them out? What are your recommendations for picking out potatoes?

  3. Darya Pino says:

    @anon1:Thanks! Have you tried it? It’s really to die for…—–@MikeFunny story actually. I was wandering around the market taking pictures, as usual. For some reasons a lot of the vendors were grumpy yesterday and were teasing me about taking pictures but not buying anything (me!). Of course I buy tons of stuff there, but I really wasn’t planning to buy any potatoes. But when the potato guy started giving me crap I began to chat with him and he convinced me these potatoes were really good (they were loose in a bin). I already had some sunchokes so I thought the pairing would be nice. We chatted awhile about sunchokes, apparently gofers ate his crop this year. Booo. I didn’t end up using the picture but the potatoes and sunchokes will definitely be on the menu this week!Picking potatoes isn’t very hard. Just make sure they are organic, because conventional potatoes are some of the most polluted/toxic vegetables available. The farmers who grow them won’t even eat them.

  4. NB says:

    I can’t wait to find out more about the Tamarillo. I went out to dinner the other night, and was amazed that among the 5 different salads that the chef was offering, none of them had any citrus on them!!! Completely befuddled, I made a special request to have some delicate orange slices paired onto one of the salads and it was superb. Thanks for the citrus heads-up.

  5. Karin says:

    Those Citrons are the coolest things ever!

  6. Healthyliving says:

    By the way I noticed those Kaffir limes peaking out to say hello under their leaves- anyone try them out yet? I’m dying to know if their fruit is as tasty as their leaf.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Still no word on the Kaffir Limes?

  8. Darya Pino says:

    @NBNo prob. Glad you were able to get a custom order, nice thinking!—–@Healthyliving & anon2I have only used the leaves, but for you guys I will buy one this weekend 🙂

  9. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the consistant market updates- You’re the only site I’ve found that has such a consistant report on something that should be one of the most important things in our lives!

  10. Darya Pino says:

    @anon3It is my absolute pleasure 🙂 Please consider subscribing if you haven’t already. You’ll never miss a beat!

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