A Citrus a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Not just grapefruits, but other well-known citrus species, lemon, orange, tangerine, mandarin, lime and pomelo are part of my daily menu in winter. Most of these citrus are available during winter in my country, but even if they are available during summer, the prices are too high, so for me citrus are only winter fruits. However, lemons are available and have an acceptable price at any store, all year long. I always have lemons in my fridge for daily use. In the summer, I make lemonade every day and use fresh lemon juice for salad dressings. During winter, I always add a slice of lemon to any cup of tea. It's no wonder; ever since childhood, I've always associated orange and mandarin scent with winter and Christmas. I was receiving lots of oranges, especially as Christmas gifts. No citrus fruits were easy to find on those times, except during the holidays. Even now, when the stores are full of all kinds of citrus, not many people can buy them on a regular basis, so they still remain one of our Christmas food symbols. Most of the people buy oranges, tangerines, mandarins and clementines for Christmas, especially for their children.
It's good to eat citrus during winter because many sources say you need to eat at least two citrus fruits each day in order to prevent cold and flu all winter long. But why's that? What makes an orange so special that it can keep the flu bug away? Probably you all know: it's vitamin C, lots of vitamin C, in only one fruit! All citrus fruits contain a large amount of vitamin C, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Potassium and Calcium, but orange contains the largest amounts.
Orange is the fruit of the citrus species Citrus x sinensis, from the Rutaceae family, Sapindales order. The most common orange cultivar is known as sweet orange, the opposite of the bitter orange species, Citrus aurantium. Like all other most common fruits from the Citrus genus, orange is a hybrid. It is supposed that orange resulted as a hybrid between the two citrus species, pomelo, Citrus maxima and mandarin, Citrus reticulata. Citrus sinensis species is subdivided into four classes, according to their fruits characteristics: common oranges, navel oranges, blood oranges and acidless oranges. The most desired type of oranges are navel oranges because of their sweet fruits and thicker skin, which makes them easier to peel, also because of their long growing season; in the United States, for example, they are available from November to April. The navel oranges characteristic is the second (also called twin) fruit developed at the bottom (apex) of the main fruit, resembling a human navel. Yes, those "baby oranges" - as we all are calling them - are, in fact, a twin fruit. Isn't it interesting? I've always loved those oranges, but never knew their name.
Citrus are a genus of flowering trees or shrubs originated from southeast Asia - India and China. They have been growing since ancient times and are now cultivated on large areas with mediteraneean climate, having both summer and winter season. The fruits need cool winter in order to change color when ripening. The nowadays cultivated species are hybrids formed from the first four ancient species : pomelo, key lime, mandarin and citron. Citrus plants have large evergreen leaves, thorns growing on their stalks and branches and white, scented flowers. Their fruits are called hesperidium, which is a kind of large, modified berry, with leathery rind. Inside, the fruit is fleshy, with separate sections called carpels. The rind contains flavonoids and limonoids which gives a strong fragrance to the fruit.
Most of the cultivated citrus trees are produced by grafting, for a good fruiting. If they are not grafted after being grown from seeds, they will not fruit and even if grown from cuttings, the fruit won't have the same quality as of the mother plant.  I have a lemon, a mandarin and a grapefruit tree in my home, all grown from seeds. Of course, neither have ever made a flower or a fruit whatsoever, but I like them the way they are, with their wonderful evergreen leaves. Although, growing inside during winter, many pests attack their leaves and make them look funny and ugly. I need to spray them every week with bug spray and, sometimes, every day with water, to prevent the bugs attacking in the dry climate of my home.
Citrus fruits are good not only when used fresh, but also cooked. Their rind is used grated to give fragrance to cakes and cookies. I have several recipes of cakes using lemon or orange zest, juice or candy peel. Most of the recipes are Christmas cakes, such as the Angela doughcake with candy orange peel inside, or the Christmas tree cake, which has a filling made with chocolate and orange zest. Fruit salad, with lots of citrus fruits, besides other fruits, is a traditional New Year's Eve meal. I also use lemons for making beverages, such as the common lemonade to which I add fresh mint from my garden; also, in addition to elderberry for a refreshing beverage we're calling "socata" in Romania.
One of my favorite citrus cakes is Lemon custard cake. It is delicious and I would like to share the recipe with you.
Lemon custard cake
For the layer
- zest from 1 large lemon, peeled and chopped and grated zest from 1/2 large lemon
- juice from 1/2 lemon (or orange)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/2 spoonfulls starch
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup sunflower oil
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Line one 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Grease the sides of the pan and the paper. Or grease and flour the pan.
In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar and eggs until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add flour, starch, oil, baking powder, 1/2 lemon juice, grated lemon zest and chopped lemon zest. Save 1 spoon of chopped zest for frosting. Beat for another minute, until the batter is smooth and creamy. Pour batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick poked into the center of the cake comes out clean. Loosen the sides of the cake from the pan with a thin knife, then turn out onto a rack. Let cool completely.
For the lemon custard
- 1 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 1/2 spoonfull corn starch or all-purpose flour
- juice and grated zest from 1 large lemon
- 2 eggs
Turn to boil 3/4 of the water, while stirring the other ingredients with the rest of the water in a bowl. When the water is boiling, add batter, turn the heat lower and stir well until thickens. Cover the pot with a lid and let cool.
For the juice
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- juice from 1/2 orange (or 1 lemon)
- 1 teaspoon orange grated zest
Turn all ingredients to boil for a few minutes and let cool. Cut layer in two, add juice on each layer and fill with all custard. Sift powder sugar on top and decorate with lemon zest chopped and sliced.
I hope I convinced you to eat more citrus from now on, in any form you'd like. I've only met two people who don't like citrus so far, but I've been working on convincing them that not only 'An apple a day keeps the doctor away'.