As soon as the Sicilian Citrus season starts in December we are in contact with our growers to find out what is being harvested and when we can get them for our customers. The fruit is grown organically or with minimum intervention. There are easier ways to put citrus on our shelves but nothing compares with the taste and quality of the citrus we receive direct from Sicily.
In the citrus ‘gardens’ of Sicily, a sharp drop in temperature for a short period overnight results in the oranges taking on the distinctive red pigmentation. This gives a boost to Vitamin C and the Antithynins which make Sicilian Blood Oranges so special. The darker the flesh, the higher these levels are. Citrus harvesting starts at the end of November and can, in a year of normal weather, go on through the varieties until June. It’s the oranges that grow best in Sicily and they get the most attention, thanks to their uplifting colour palette and versatility. Citrus varieties crossbreed readily, which is why new varieties of citrus come to market from time to time. From Sicily the important varieties of orange are Moro, Tarocco, Sanguinello and the sweet Navelina. Of the bloods, the Moro develops the reddest flesh and its juice is almost raspberry-flavoured. The Tarocco is a little sweeter and its skin and flesh more variably-coloured. Our arch is aglow when the Tarocco Fire variety arrives thanks to its fiery orange/red streaked skin. The Sanguinello appears later in the season. Its thin peel make it a more delicate traveller so we tend not to get this variety. The sweet Navelina is less special but still good. And we’re always happy to receive Pink Grapefruits from our growers as it’s so difficult to find unwaxed grapefruits. As weather conditions change, lemons are now growing more happily on the island and, if we can get them, we take them. Super fragrant Common mandarins are always desirable fruit in our arch. Very fragrant floral zest and amount of seeds , make them best for marmalades and jams. They are very pleasant eating fruit too.
While much citrus is enjoyed simply as raw fruit or juiced, it is a key part of Sicilian cuisine. Sliced orange with fennel, sometimes some sliced onion and/or black olives, is dressed with olive oil for a classic Sicilian salad; a dish of risotto seasoned with sharp orange juice; a lemon or orange granita, maybe scooped into a brioche bun; a whole-orange and almond cake; all are synonymous with Sicily. Here in London we can’t get enough of sweet/sharp new season oranges, whether they come blushed or full-blooded. Blood orange marmalade, orange curd tarts, caramelised oranges and Crepes Suzette are other ways to go with the orange. And don’t forget to use the peel, either for candying or by air-drying thin peelings for later use in fish or meat stews.