During the later summer months, the mountains of peaches and plums at market stalls were heavy enough to deeply bow wood-topped tables, in part thanks to some pretty great rains during the previous springtime. The only thing different at the opposite end of the harvest calendar is that the crop has switched to winter citrus. You can't walk 10 feet at a farmers market without passing someone who has citrus on the table.
Seedless Satsumas are still around, as are the Kishus and the Algerians, sharing space with Meyer, Eureka, and Persian lemons. The old school Marsh grapefruit is in profusion, along with closely related pomelos. And we're just now hitting the peak season for oranges: ruby red blood oranges, the weirdly pinkish Cara Cara, and the grandmother of California's orange legacy, the seedless and juicy Washington navel.
The charmingly named Cocktail grapefruit has created a niche for itself, wedged between the sometimes astringent realm of true grapefruits, like the Marsh and Ruby, and the sweeter side of citrus, like the mandarins and navels. Fitting as it's a cross between the pomelo and mandarin (the Siamese Sweet and Frua respectively). The sharper, bitter bite of the true grapefruit is largely absent or relegated to its thick inner segment skin. The outer skin is a pale yellow, marbled with lime-colored splotches and veins. Expect a pleasant and mild sweetness from the mandarin side of its parentage, though watch out for seeds. Peeling and deseeding (it's pretty pocked with them) is generally easy with a pair of kitchen shears. Peel and segment the fruit and then snip along the center seam where the seeds form. The skin rolls back allowing for easy access to both pulp and seeds.
Most of the blood oranges you'll see at the markets right now will be Moro blood oranges. Classified as a “deep blood,” their flesh can go from a mottled pink to nearly black, with a sweet orangey flavor punctuated by an almost berry-like tang. If you're lucky, you'll find a grower with a Tarrocco blood orange. The color will be much less dramatic (it's in the “half blood” category) but the flavor is amplified, both in sweetness and complexity. Blood oranges have a thinner skin that other oranges and aren't as easy to peel by hand. Use a sharp paring knife to peel and slice into wedges instead.
One of the smallest mandarins at the market right now is also one of the tastiest. The Kishu mandarin, a golf ball-sized seedless import from Japan, used to be pretty hard to find, even here in California. Now you can find it at a few stalls in Hollywood and several at Santa Monica and Torrance. Super easy to peel and small enough to pop into your mouth whole (not that we've done this) though it's recommended that you savor its flavor one little kawaii wedge at a time. It's season is short — just through the month of January — so get them this week if you can.
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