Red light, Orange Light, Pink Light. December 17, 2006

We’re up in Cloverdale heading into the misty wet clouds on a small mountain in Sonoma County. Raised a suburban Philadelphia kid, I lucked out by marrying into my wife’s family, which on her mother’s side, is an extended old-time Italian and French California group. They know how to hunt, ride, and make their own blood sausage (if you don’t know, don’t ask). Every year in early December the cousins and uncles, aunts and a host of relatives twice-removed gather for the great Christmas tree hunt on a friend’s property. There is always lots of family made wine and home-cooked food. One of the adult cousins says with a sly smile that if you can’t bake your brownies from scratch – even milking the cow yourself — then really what good are you? It’s a tough crowd. The kids are all gathered under a large manzanita oak tree playing Red light, Greenlight. One of the five-year-old cousins looks like a green and yellow bumble bee in his striped down jacket. He’s directing the crew. “Wed wight” he yells as everyone freezes 30 feet away. “Gween wight,” he says and everyone runs. He laughs hysterically as he waits to be tagged. “You have to use the red light again!” some of the older cousins complain.

This week I’m going to take some liberty with the Red light and Greenlight rules a little. It’s winter, and the Citrus Game is at hand. Red light (blood orange), Orange light (navel orange) and Pink light (Cara Cara) are the colors of the citrus mix this week, and they all mean “go!” Early in the specialty citrus season (which is now) it’s tough to tell the difference between these three varieties by the color of the outer skin. As we move into the next few weeks, you’ll begin to see the blood oranges gain a blush to the skin and the cara cara’s color-up with a bit of pink to the rind. For now, you’ll have to open them up and enjoy the surprise. The blood oranges will have a wonderful dark red color inside – don’t worry, it isn’t defective, it’s just a tasty sweet and tart mix of citrus and berry flavors all in one. The Blood orange (in all crates except the staples) is the primary fresh orange used in southern Spain, Italy, and northern Africa. When people think orange juice in these regions, they think about the juice of this dark red fruit. Cara Cara’s are a relative of the navel orange and have a pink flesh inside. They taste less acidic than their cousin the navel and have a hint of grapefruit splash. Of course, the mainstay orange of the season is the navel orange – brought to the US in 1870 from Brazil, they were planted in Riverside, California in 1873. Those first trees planted in the late 1800s were the trees that started the orange revolution in California. The Bahia navel was renamed the Washington Navel and is what it is today.

Enjoy and be fruitful! – Chris Mittelstaedt

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