Winter Citrus: Tangerines

Tangerines
Tangerinestillwe/Flickr

As someone who tries to eat according to the seasons, I think of winter as my "limited fruit" period. To the monotonous, if comforting, rotation of stewed and baked apples, in winter I thankfully get to add citrus fruits—particularly the lovely tangerine, which, for me, holds a sense of nostalgia. I remember the miniature crates of tangerines my mom would bring home from the grocery store: most of the fruit we ate arrived in plastic bags, so the tangerines' wooden crate—emblazoned with the name of some Mediterranean country—imbued the fruit with a worldliness. And of course, tangerines were just so much fun. Unlike oranges, which usually required an adult's help to get the peel started, tangerine skin easily slipped off to expose the delicious fruit.

The tangerine is actually a variety of mandarin orange from China, which made its way to Europe and North America in the nineteenth century via Tangier, the Moroccan city which gave the fruit its name. For many years, the most popular tangerine in America was the flavorful dancy, a fruit that peaks in mid- to late December and served as a Christmas stocking favorite at the turn of the 20th century. The dancy fell out of favor in recent years because of its many seeds and susceptibility to disease. It's been largely replaced by seedless mandarin varieties like the clementine, satsuma, and a new hybrid, the neopolitan.

A tangerine's sweet-tart flavor brightens up salads, like mixed greens with fennel, or yellow beets dressed up with shallot and raspberry vinaigrette. It also adds a subtle citrus scent to freshly baked rye rolls, and adds its bright tang to cream-frosted cupcakes and creamy dessert curd. I'd argue, though, that the best way to eat this winter fruit is directly out of hand, the skin peeled off in one satisfying swoop.

Buying Tips

Season: Tangerine season depends on the variety, but many come into peak in late fall to the middle of winter.

Where to find it: Farmers' markets Florida and California will stock tangerines during the winter months. Otherwise, check your supermarket for domestic varieties and those from Spain, Italy, and other Mediterranean locales.

Price: At the farmers' market, you're most likely going to pay for a set number of fruits per dollar (say, five tangerines for a dollar); by weight, prices run from about $2 to $3 a pound. In the supermarket, you are most likely to find them in five-pound crates for $10 to $15 per crate, or sold separately at around 50 to 80 cents a piece.

Leah Koenig is a freelance writer, home cook, and food columnist for the Forward.