Friday, April 06, 2012

Citrus Tour

When I was a very little girl, my family lived in Sanger, a small agricultural town in the San Joaquin Valley. Elderly friends of our family had a citrus farm, and from that farm, I remember the giant tadpoles in canal eddies, ancient gnarled branches of olive trees, and the sweet musky scent of rotting citrus fruit. Today, when I walked onto the campus of the UCR's Citrus Collection, that memory hit me profoundly, and I could picture myself, just a few feet tall, climbing around under the canopy of old orange trees as my little feet turned aged fruit to mush. The smell of citrus blossoms, though wonderful, is all over California, but that rotting citrus smell is more specific, and therefore, much more emotionally powerful. It is a good memory.

The Foothill Chapter, my local CRFG chapter, arranged the tour with the collection's curator, Dr. Tracy Kahn. Founded in 1910 and containing multiple specimens of over 1,000 citrus varieties and citrus relatives, the collection is the largest in the world. In screened greenhouses, safe from threat of disease, the collection maintains two of each variety; it contains many edible varieties, but others that are also ornamental, grown for fragrance, medicine, rootstock, or just interest. The diversity in the growth habits was fascinating. The trees and shrubs ranged from tropical and lush to deserty and willowy.

Chinotto Sour Orange, a densely fruiting and foliaged variety.

Flying Dragon, a roostock variety, whose thorny branches twisted malevolently.

Variegated Cara Cara orange. I couldn't capture how beautifully glaucous the foliage was on this plant. This is an ugly picture of a lovely plant.

I fell in love with the fine foliage and weeping habit of this drought tolerant plant, the Australian Desert Lime.

These two rows of navels were both planted in 1990, the left on standard rootstock, the right on dwarfing.
Amazing to me is the fact that all of our edible citrus comes originates from three ancient edibles: citron, pummelo, and mandarin. Every other edible variety is a cross or backcross or mutation of some sort of these three. We were able to taste the diversity of flavors that thousands of years of human cultivation of citrus has rendered as we wandered through the grove.

Dr. Kahn's chart of the grove's plantings.

Indio Mandarinquat: Perfectly uniform fruit, juicy-tangy flesh, and sweet skin. Nice.

A handful of Australian Finger Limes.

The crunchy-tart juice cells of an Australian Finger Lime.

Dr. Kahn cut several Tango mandarins for us to taste. They were exceptionally juicy; we all left the tasting sticky.

The deep coloration of the skin on these Bream Tarocco blood oranges was a hint of the deep burgundy flesh inside, berry-flavored, tart, and juicy.

This, a Bael fruit, is something we didn't taste. It dripped thick mucous after being broken open. In India, the mucous is mixed with water to make a drink with medicinal properties, especially for women.

A Valentine blood orange, pummelo, mandarin cross, one of my favorites of the day. The fruit was balanced in sweet, tart, and juicy, and it glowed like stained glass in the sunlight. It has taken 28 years to get this plant to the point where it may be commercially available.

We tasted other goodies too: perfectly seedless Kishu mandarins, seedless Nordmann kumquats, sweet and acid-free Limettas, an underwhelming Sumo mandarin. I couldn't get pictures of everything, but I did love the opportunity to taste it all. Now, I just have to find space for more trees in my yard.

Consider supporting the collection that protects the world's citrus heritage. You can find out more here.


erik said...

While I love my stone fruit, and my avocados, my citrus trees are the most special. When I put them in, I never realized that it would turn into an obsession. I have a yuzu, cara cara, valencia, navel, mexican lime, bearss lime, kishu, citron, mandarinquat, mandarin, two blood oranges, thai lime, two grapefruits, chinotto orange, and three lemon trees. The citron is still in a pot because I can't find space for it. There is something about the sweet flowers and tart acid of the fruit. Thank you for a wonderful post.

Anonymous said...

I definitely caught the scent of that first paragraph.

Alit said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gina said...

What a fantastic way to spend your spring break. Having grown up in the Midwest I didn't have much exposure to citrus -the selection was very limited and quite expensive. I haven't taken advantage of living here in S. California to the extent I should; I only have one orange tree in my yard. Clearly I need to add a couple more!

Zora said...

Cool to see the bael fruit! I wasn't quite clear on whether it was a citrus or not. In Thailand, you can get it dried, and it has that odd sort of numbing effect that some dried limes have, or which case it's not particularly special. Didn't know about the medicinal aspect.

Christina said...

Erik: How do you use your chinotto orange? It is a really beautiful plant, and I'm curious about its culinary use. I love citrus too.

AH: Thanks! I had (and still have) a stuffy nose, and despite that, the smell was sending me on such a strong memory trip.

Gina: Yes! You need a lemon and/or lime for sure, and perhaps, because of your pleasure in preserving, a kumquat of some sort. We sampled the Nordmann kumquat, and it was specatcular--larger than the average kumquat and completely seed free. Delicious!

Zora: Thanks for more info on the Bael. We didn't taste it, but were all amazed at the quantity and texture of its mucous. Also, the rind is really hard, and it had to be stomped on to be broken, because a knife wasn't going to cut it.