In praise of: Oranges (but not that frozen stuff)

Growing up in the rainy Pacific Northwest, winters were gray and summers couldn’t come fast enough. But tagging along with Mom to the grocery store provided some relief. Wheeling the cart along the bins of colorful fruits and veggies, she’d stop and motion for me to pick out an orange. Cupping the orange in one hand, I’d peel away the skin in one piece, like a puzzle, and place it on a loaf of bread for safe keeping. Then as we navigated the remaining aisles, I’d savor the fruit, section by section.

[Note: Watch for future posts in my new “In praise of” category]

oranges, fruit, vitamin c, recipe

Today I’m so fond of oranges that I can’t just eat the fruit, I have to zest it first to use later in smoothies, breads and a ton of recipes, like the one I’ll share at the end for Zesty Orange-Ginger Halibut. Meanwhile, it’s winter, and I must write my weekly garden column. So I decided to celebrate oranges. But watch out: By reading this, you’ll learn some not-so-savory facts about frozen orange juice.

In Alaska, we love oranges as a winter fruit, with most of the crop arriving from California and Florida. While most of us are familiar with the many health advantages to eating oranges (I’ll cover some interesting bits in a moment), here are some quirky facts that will help you appreciate oranges even more.

Oranges are actually a modified berry that grow on evergreen trees that can reach up to 30 feet tall and live for over a hundred years. A single citrus tree is like a giant bouquet, bearing as many as 60,000 flowers, but only 1 percent of those flowers will turn into fruit.

And those Navel oranges we love so much (did the name really come from the belly-button formation opposite the stem end?) — they are seedless, which means they can’t reproduce through pollination and thus require “budding” or grafting to create new trees.

Orange trees were first grown in China and it is believed that Christopher Columbus brought the first orange seeds and seedlings to the New World on his second voyage in 1493. Today, oranges are the largest citrus crop in the world: 20 percent of the total crop is sold as whole fruit; the remainder is used in preparing orange juice, extracts, and preserves.

Speaking of juice, do you know how orange juice is really made? According to the Huffington Post, all that “100% orange juice, not from concentrate” stuff you’ve been drinking is technically not from concentrate but it’s not really 100% orange juice either.

Once the juice is squeezed and stored in large vats, a process begins to remove oxygen. Why? Because it allows the liquid to keep for up to a year without spoiling. Removing that oxygen however, also removes the natural flavors of oranges. So in order for your morning OJ to actually taste like oranges, drink companies hire flavor and fragrance companies (the same ones that make perfumes), to create “flavor packs” to make juice taste like, well, juice again.

Thus any brand allegiance you might have between say, Minute Maid or Tropicana, is due to the specific flavor pack the company uses. Since these flavor packs are made from orange byproducts and are chemically altered (yikes), they don’t have to be considered an ingredient, and therefore are not required to appear on food labels.

oranges, orange juice, frozen, Bakersfield, winter, fruit, peel, zest, recipe

Oranges, ripe for the picking, in Orange Grove RV Park (www.orangegrovervpark.com), Bakersfield, California. Marion Owen photo.

Back to the sunnier side of oranges. Sweet, juicy oranges make a delicious and healthy snack or addition to a meal. And, of course, oranges are well known for their vitamin C content among other powerhouse nutrients. But did you know that after chocolate and vanilla, orange is the world’s favorite flavor? ‘Tis a great introduction to the recipe I promised:

Zesty Orange-Ginger Halibut

1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange peel zest
2 teaspoons minced fresh cilantro (optional)
1-2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon butter
Halibut, cut into 1 to 2-inch cubes

In a small bowl, stir together the orange juice, cilantro, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, zest, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes; set aside. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the halibut cubes until golden brown on each side, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Pour the orange juice mixture into the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the for a few minutes and the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove halibut to a plate and drizzle with orange sauce to serve.

The rest of the story: When Mom and I were going through the checkout line, the clerk didn’t bat an eye when I set my orange peeling on the scale. Fond memories of a neighborhood grocery store.

Thanks for stopping by. 

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12 Responses to In praise of: Oranges (but not that frozen stuff)

  1. Beautiful picture of a Sun Kissed orange tree against a brilliant blue sky…. Just Stunning!

  2. Velda says:

    Yummy looking recipe! I grew up visiting So Cal and seeing citrus trees everywhere. Now I live in Northern California and have Meyer Lemons, a Valencia Orange, a Navel, and a Mandarin orange tree growing in my front yard. Love going out to pick as needed year around.

  3. Helen williams says:

    Thank you Marion – for giving me the opportunity to practice mindfulness. Your post brought back a lot of wonderful memories and makes me question some of the other “natural” foods I eat. Helen in Ohio

    • marionowen says:

      Thanks, Helen. Yes, I always learn something when I write my column and blog posts. In this case, wow, I guess I figured frozen OJ was, well, just juice. We’d noticed over the years that our B&B guests drink less OJ in the morning… have a terrific week. ~ Marion

  4. daryleone says:

    For fresh orange juice: Have sister in Florida overnight a dozen oranges. Use an old-fashioned hand operated press that extracts the oils in the orange skin with the juice. Pick out the seeds and the spent shells. Remembering that you can’t taste ‘orange’ – only smell the fragrance, drink the best orange juice ever. And, Marion, I can smell the oranges in your photo!

    • marionowen says:

      Wouldn’t it be fun if we had optional scratch ‘n sniff computer screens? Then again, maybe not! Either way, I think I need to find one of those old-fashioned, hand-operated presses. For sure1

      • daryleone says:

        Actually, most good kitchen or bartender supply shops should have them. I bought mine to make REALLY good lemonade to sell at country fairs.

  5. Helen Raschick says:

    Marion, this was such an interesting article. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Jim Furnas says:

    I found your site while looking for pet safe alternatives to the war on garden snails. Reading this blog on oranges, I was reminded of John McPhee’s book, Oranges. It is short, quite dated now, but tremendously informative. It is well worth a read. Thank you.

    • marionowen says:

      Hi Jim, first of all, I feel for your war on snails; in Kodiak, Alaska, as in many areas in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all about slugs. The only difference between snails and slugs is that snails carry a house with them. I’ve found spraying them with vinegar or diluted ammonia (NH3 doesn’t harm plants) is very effective. As for McPhee’s book… I’m going to look that up. Thanks so much for touching bases with then interesting comment. Cheers!

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