Citrus for the Solstice

Today is the darkest day of the year, aka winter solstice. Yeah, it's the first day of winter, beginning this evening at 7:22 ET.

A ray of culinary sunshine. (Kim O'Donnel)

The sun rose at a very tardy 7:23 a.m. and will set before today's episode of Oprah is over, at 4:49 p.m. ET, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. Translation: We get a mere nine hours and 26 minutes of daylight.

I know -- complain, complain. In Copenhagen, where I've got a few friends, the daylight quotient shrinks to seven hours, with sunset taking place around 3:30. And let's not forget Anchorage, Alaska, which is essentially a city working in the dark, clocking in with a whopping five hours, 26 minutes of light.

But while we mope around in the dark, the one consolation about the solstice is the return of the sun, ever so slightly, beginning tomorrow. In fact, pre-Christianity Druid communities celebrated this very phenomenon, with dancing, mistletoe and the burning of "yule" logs. Sound familiar?

I don't know about you, but I find it incredibly challenging to stay awake at this time of year. Who wants to get up when the sun doesn't show its face until lunchtime? (Yes, I know I'm a crybaby.)

And speaking of lunch, I'm thinking we all could use a hearty helping of glow-in-the-dark chow. Please, scrap the notion of a family-size bag of cheese curls or a can of Cheez-Whiz immediately. The day-glo power we all need at the moment is of a naturally-occurring variety. I'm talking citrus, baby!

Right now, the produce aisle is aglow with jewels kissed by the sun that go beyond the same ole navel. The choices are many, including the kumquat, clementine, tangerine and one of my favorites, the blood orange (although this link is in Italian, the flash photography is great).

In Italian, the blood orange has a very glamorous ring -- arancia rossa. On the outside, it looks like a regular orange (save a few reddish flecks), but inside the flesh is deep red, almost plum-purple. Its flavor is just as intriguing, like an orange that rolled in the hay with a raspberry.

When I bite into one, I do feel brighter and a wee bit closer to the sun. Maybe I'm sipping Campari on a veranda in Sicily, maybe I'm in a citrus grove catching up on my tan. And maybe I finally can take off my "Mole Family Christmas" night-vision goggles. (Did anyone else love this Russell Hoban book as a kid?)

In Italy, the arancia rossa is plentiful enough to make juice by the carton possible. The pulp is so drop-dead redhead gorgeous it's enough reason to hop on a plane prontissimo.

Alas, we're lucky that California now grows these beauties, but they're available for a short time, maybe through January. Hurry before you're left in the dark!

What are your favorite ways to eat and drink away the darkness? Share in the comments area below.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 21, 2006; 10:53 AM ET Seasonal Produce
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Citrus geek here: three types of blood oranges in Sicily, arancia rossa is the generic name.
Moro: round, darkest flesh, small
Tarocco: shaped like a navel orange, orange flesh with dark red areas
Sanguinello: round, larger than moro, orange flesh with red streaks. Don't know which ones grow in California, but Rodman's used to carry Italian blood orange juice in boxes.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 21, 2006 12:33 PM

I live in California, and the only type of blod oranges I have seen labelled as such are Moros. That said, I have been to farmer's markets where a farmer will have two kinds of blood oranges, Moros and unmarked, and you can definitely taste the difference (Moros are less juicy).

Posted by: teri | December 21, 2006 3:21 PM

My MIL always makes blood orange marmalade, and now I do, too. I find it to be less bitter than plain orange marmalade and it has a beautiful color. But perhaps the best thing about it is while most preserves are saving a bit of summer, this is a little bit of winter that you can savor throughout the year.

And for Christmas dinner I always make a chocolate tart with roasted clementines on top. Absolutely fabulous......

Posted by: seattle | December 21, 2006 4:46 PM

Seattle: Please share your recipe for blood orange marmelade! I'd love to make some before they've whisked off into the sunset.
Teri: How lucky you are to see blood oranges at the local farmer's markets. I'm so envious...

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 21, 2006 5:04 PM

Mmm......I'll take the recipe for the chocolate tart with roasted clementines, please.

Lucky me, living in Florida where I have ruby red grapefruit, blood orange, lime, lemon and lychee trees. They're all very young trees and this is the first year that the grapefruit has actually managed to hold onto its fruit.

And I made grapefruit marmalade this year for Christmas gifts much to the dismay of my husband who thought he was going to keep it all to himself.

Posted by: paulaf | December 22, 2006 10:31 AM

Here's my favorite winter-time smoothie:

•Citrusy Smoothie: Blend together two peeled and sectioned Clementines from Spain, 1 ripe banana, 1 cup lowfat vanilla yogurt, 3/4 cup orange juice, 4 ice cubes and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

This recipe is a great way to add some fruit into kids diets!

Posted by: Elizabeth | December 26, 2006 10:49 AM

I just saw the request for the blood orange marmelade recipe. I don't know if it's different from regular orange marmelade, but here is what my MIL sent me:
4 blood oranges
2 lemons

1) Wash fruit and thinly slice. Measure fruit and put fruit in a bowl with 2 cups water for every cup of fruit. Let stand for 24 hours.
2) Boil for 15 minute, let stand for 24 hours.
3) Put 3 cups of the mixture into a sauce pan, add 3 cups of sugar, and boil about 20 minutes to jellying point.
4) Stir for a few minute on low, then pour into hot, sterile jars, cover and turn over for 5 minutes to seal. (I suppose you could use the water process method, but even the Ball Blue Book says that the turn-over method is fine as long as everything is hot.)

As far as the tart, since I got that out of a cookbook, it's not really mine to share. I will say that it has a hazelnut crust--pre-cooked--then you fill it with chocolate ganache and put the oranges that have been oven roasted in orange juice on top. If you want all the specifics, check it out in "In The Sweet Kitchen" which I think every baker should have on their shelf anyway--everything I've made out of it has been the highlight of the meal.

Finally, can I just say the grapefruit marmelade sounds fabulous? I looooove grapefruit and am so jealous of those people who can grow it in their yards....

Posted by: seattle | December 28, 2006 11:06 PM

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