Saturday, March 28, 2015

What the heck is that? Honeybells

Sometimes it's good to be the Produce Savant.

Sometimes people give you things. Produce things.

My friend Tim, a Florida native, gave me this fruit, and described it as particularly sweet, juicy, and "orangy."  

I recognized this citrus celebrity right away from wintertime ads in the New York Times. A Honeybell! It had a distinctive shape - I imagined a regular orange wearing a cap with a tassel cocked at a jaunty angle - and skin that looked like it would be easy to peel. I knew Honeybells had a very short season, that they grew along the Indian River, Florida's Citrus Central, and that they were sold by the dozen in fancy, hand-packed gift boxes. I don't typically get my produce via gift box, so I had never had the chance to try a Honeybell - until now.

Honeybells are a kind of Minneola tangelos. (In a rare example of balance, Minneola tangelos are often called Minneolas and just as often called tangelos.) Minneola tangelos are a cross between a grapefruit or pomelo and a tangerine, a hybrid that was the 1931 brainchild of the USDA Horticultural Research Station in Orlando, a kind of citrus counterpart to the apple world's Agricultural Experiment Station in New York.

The point of such agricultural tinkering is to end up with a fruit with the best qualities of its parents, in this case, a fruit with the size of a small grapefruit and the juicy, sweet taste of a tangerine. Interestingly, even though both tangerines and grapefruit have seeds, Honeybells have few or none.

Tim wasn't kidding about the juiciness of Honeybells. They are indeed juicy! I didn't test this out, but supposedly just two honeybells can yield a nice full glass of juice. Some gift boxes even come with a bib.

Overall, the Honeybell was as sweet, juicy and intensely "orangy" as promised. Thanks, Tim!

But what if you can't get a Honeybell? Their short growing season is over, and you might not want to order a gift box of them for next year. While befriending a Floridian is always a good strategy, you can also pursue another path: finding the more humble "regular" tangelo.

I learned that Minneolas aren't the only kind of tangelos: Minneolas have a sister hybrid, Orlando, with the same grapefruit/tangerine parentage. Minneolas are a little bigger and easier to peel. Orlandos come out a little earlier in the season and consequently may be less sweet than Minneolas. According to New York fruit vendor parlance, all tangelos are "Minneolas"; I've never seen any tangelo called "Orlando."

With the Honeybell a fresh memory, I returned to the more humble regular ol' Minneola, which don't seem seasonally limited.

Reasonably similar...

Hmm... are those seeds I see?

Well, humble Minneolas still taste very good. Sweet and rich, with a refreshingly tart undertone.

And if they're not quite as sweet and juicy as their fancy Honeybell counterparts, these humble Minneolas have a humble price to match. 

Best of all, they're still around to enjoy.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Siempre Es Primavera - Guest Blog Post from Mexico City

As this never-ending winter grinds our spirits into filthy slush, it's cheering to think about spring - anyone's spring.

My friend Bethanne has been spending a lot of time in Mexico City, which has a famously mellow average temperature of around 60 degrees. It's always springtime there!  This is sounding mighty attractive right now.

Even better, Mexico City has massive markets that draw upon Mexico's unbelievable agricultural bounty, and a tradition of displaying produce - even at modest roadside stands or hanging out near the socks and toys - in aesthetically pleasing ways.

Playing peek-a-boo near the nopales (pads from the prickly pear cactus), avocados and chayotes, a crisp member of the squash family.

Radishes, herbs like cilantro and mint, and attractively bound young and mature onions occupy market space as proudly as movie tie-in plushies.

Even black trash bags on the ground can make a nice backdrop for flowers, squash, prickly chayotes and mushrooms.

Of course, if the humble roadside stand looks good, imagine what a real market stand will offer!  Citrus fruits, apples, bananas, green pomegranate, peaches, magenta dragon fruit and the scaly monster-with-a-sweet-heart guanabana.

This market photo showcases more dragon fruit, beautifully cut red pomegranate, limes, guanabana's relative, cherimoya, and sapodilla (recently seen in the Filipino markets as the more diminutive chico.  

If huge bunches of herbs (I think I'm seeing oregano, laurel culantro and epazote, among others) are sold next to bags of cement, you know they're pretty central to a country's cuisine.

Similarly, huge bins of dried chile peppers - anchos, chiles de arbol, moritas (chipotles), pasillas, etc. - prove the centrality of these flavor powerhouses in Mexican cuisine.

I'm feeling warmer already. Thanks, Bethanne!