A host of locally grown exotic citrus--including pink lemons and yellow limequats--is competing for the attention of North County shoppers.
Consider the kumquat.
The small, bright orange fruit is used in fruit salads, drinks and preserves.
The flesh of the oval-shaped Nagami kumquat is packed with "pucker power," but its rind is pleasantly sweet.
The rounder, marble-sized Mei Wa kumquat is sweet enough to be eaten out of hand.
The bright yellow limequat is a hybrid between a Bearss lime and a kumquat. The fruit is used much like a lime, but is milder and has more flavor, says grower Steve White, a major packer of kumquats in the United States.
North County has become a haven for these and other exotic citrus because growing conditions are so ideal.
Another hybrid, the sweet-tasting Lavender Gem, a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine, grows mainly in the Coachella Valley, according to Cooperative of Certified Organic Farmers director Rich Hart, who distributes the product nationwide out of Rainbow. "It's got a light pink blush like a grapefruit, but tastes like tangerine," he says.
A grapefruit released five years ago, the Star Ruby, is known for its sweet character, says Oliver Atkins of Atkins Nursery in Fallbrook.
A new variegated variety of lemon, called Pink Lemonade, has a pink flesh. When squeezed it produces an instant pink lemonade.
Like the Pink, Walker Vice nursery's yellow- and green-streaked Sungold variegated lemon contains less acidity than a regular lemon.
Maria Erlandson and her husband, Carl, president of the North County chapter of the California Rare Fruit Growers, are excited about the diminutive calamondin lime, which bears year-round. Maria said that, in her native Philippines, the warm drink made from calamondin juice, sugar and water is used to treat a sore throat.
"You won't find many trees here because picking calamondins is so labor-intensive," she said. Indeed, each fruit must be carefully twisted off the tree, so as not to break the skin. Timing is also essential, since calamondins should be picked when they are in the process of turning from green to orange. Calamondins have not yet made their way into mainstream supermarkets, although Erlandson said she has no trouble finding eager buyers in Oriental specialty markets.
The Erlandsons' special interest in citrus is reflected in the
number of varieties planted throughout their orchard.
Among them is the pummelo, an ancestor of the grapefruit. The fruit averages 2 to 3 pounds, with some tipping the scales at 10 pounds. "We have to brace the branches of our trees, or they break under the weight of the fruit," Erlandson said.
The Chandler variety, a giant grapefruit look-alike, boasts a thick rind, pinkish flesh and total lack of acidity, as do the mild Oro Blanco and the Mellow Gold, two other varieties grown in North County.
Some customers prefer the Rein King variety of pummelo, which has a whiter flesh, and a more pronounced neck. Packing houses such as CalFlavor in Escondido do a brisk business in gift boxes of pummelos during the holiday season.
To peel a pummelo, slice off the top and the bottom of the fruit. Score the thick pulp in quarters. Peel off each quarter carefully, and remove the white pith between the fruit segments. The rind can be candied.
Like the pummelo, a thick pulp is what singles out the Etrog Citron, a sort of malformed lemon sometimes called Buddha's Hand because of its finger-like appendages.
The Etrog citron takes on ceremonial significance during the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles.
Its use otherwise is primarily in making candied citron peel, although Erlandson said she likes to use it as room freshener: "I just cut it in half, and leave it on my kitchen counter."
CITRUS FRUIT AND TREES
"What Do You Do With a Kumquat?" by Stephanie McGraw, contains 101 kumquat recipes. It can be ordered from 28403 Meadow Mesa Lane, Escondido CA 92026. $6 plus 6% sales tax.
Atkins Nursery, 3129 Reche Road, Fallbrook CA 92028. 728-1610. Grows and sells trees such as limequats, kumquats, tangelos, calamondin limes, Etrog citron, and pummelos. Call for prices.
California Coalition of Organic Growers, 5115 5th St., Rainbow CA 92028. 728-2905. Ships via UPS. Lavender Gem costs approximately $12.50 for a seven-pound flat depending on availability.
Carl and Maria Erlandson, 741-8874. Sell mainly at Vista Farmer's Market. Price depends on availability.
Walker Vice, 11050 Mystery Mountain Road, Valley Center CA 92082. 749-1615. Variegated Valencias, variegated lemons and Pink Lemonade trees in five-gallon containers $9.95 plus $1 patent; 15-gallon trees cost $38 and $1 patent.
CalFlavor, 440 Andreasen, Escondido CA 92025. 741-1025. Kumquats in 10-pound boxes and up. Call for prices.
S.L. White Farms Inc., P.O. Box 3357, Escondido CA 92033. 751-0805. Steve White, president. Sells through packing houses only.
California Rare Fruit Growers Assn., North County Chapter, 245 Cranston St., Escondido CA 92025.