Winter Fruits—From Blood Oranges to Tangerines

Sunshine Citrus Fruits Ripen in Winter, Just When We Need Them Most


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Most citrus fruits ripen to their sweetest and juiciest during the North American winter. Though they grow in temperate regions, they do best during the comparatively milder weather of late fall through early spring. Known for packing a potent dose of vitamin C, they do double duty as a lunchbox snack during cold and flu season. Look for seasonal winter fruits at farmers markets and in grocery store produce departments for the best flavor and greatest value during winter. Specific crops and harvest dates depend on the growing region's climate.

Blood Oranges show up every winter with their brilliant color and sweet, complex flavor with just a suggestion of berry in it. Look for fruits that feel heavy for their size and know that the intensity of the red inside varies tremendously depending on the variety, growing season, and more.

Clementines are a small, sweet hybrid of a mandarin and a sweet orange widely available from December through most of the winter season. Sometimes sold as "Cuties" or "Sweeties," these seedless easy-peelers make a great lunchbox snack for grade school kids.

Grapefruits from California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona come into season in January and linger into early summer. The tight, heavy peel contains a lot of bitter pith, making these less appealing for eating out of hand. For home consumption, many people use special grapefruit knives and spoons that make it easy to scoop bite-size morsels of juicy flesh from between the membranes of a freshly cut half. The sweet-tart taste makes an especially refreshing juice.

Kiwifruits grow on vines and tend to be happy wherever wine grapes grow. Kiwis get harvested in late winter through spring in warmer and temperate areas. Look for fruits that feel heavy for their size with unblemished fuzzy brown peels. This thin-skinned fruit is easily damaged.

Kumquats are small, bite-size citrus fruits with sweet edible peels; they come into season towards the end of winter and stay available through spring. Store them on the counter for easy snacking or add them to salads for a burst of tart sweetness. Keep their flavor around with a bottle of Kumquat Vodka or a jar of Honey Preserved Kumquats.

Lemons tend to be at their juicy best in winter and spring, although they're readily available in grocery stores all year long. Like other citrus fruits, they don't like the cold, so store them at cool room temperature rather than in the refrigerator.

Mandarins, a term that technically includes all varieties of tangerines, are sweet and juicy in winter. As with all citrus fruits, choose mandarins that feel heavy for their size.

Meyer lemons are more seasonal than the ubiquitous Lisbon and Eureka lemons, with a limited commercial harvest running from December or January into May. They have very thin skins, making them difficult to transport and store, and are usually priced accordingly.

Oranges add sunny brightness to winter eating. If you find a good deal on big bags, make yourself some fresh-squeezed orange juice or buckle down and can a batch of orange marmalade.

Pears, a variety of pome fruit along with apples and quince, have a season that runs from mid-summer well into winter, depending on the variety and the region.

Persimmons, which are botanically a berry, are available for a short window in the fall and early winter. Look for the sweet Fuyu variety, distinguished by its tomato-like shape and orange skin, or choose only fully ripe Hachiyas; otherwise, the flavor can be unpleasantly astringent.

Pommelos look like giant grapefruits. They have extremely thick peels covering their sweet grapefruit-like yellow citrus fruit interior that can be so pale it's almost white.

Satsumas have loose skins for easy peeling and a super-sweet tangerine flavor for irresistible eating. Look for them starting in November and into January.

Tangerines of all sorts are in season at some point over the winter from November through March. Look for different varieties—including tiny Pixies—as the season progresses.