Sunday, October 13, 2002
It Can't Possibly be That Time of Year Already!
Yesterday, trying to get my shopping done for the week, I was wandering through the produce section in the grocery store. Toward the back I came across a bin full of plastic containers of preserved cherries, pineapple, orange peel and citron. The pineapple was a lurid red and green, as were the cherries. Bags of Brazil nuts and hazelnuts were stacked up next to this scary-looking display. Oh, no! I thought. Holiday baking?? Now? Already? Who in Southern California bakes with this stuff, who even eats this stuff? It's much too heavy for this climate. Not to mention the fact that when we can expect temperatures ranging into the 80's from now until Christmas, the whole idea of "aging" fruitcake becomes more of a penicillin farming project. I've never been fond of fruitcake, even the "good" ones without the astronomical levels of food coloring in the fruit. My grandmother made a white fruitcake that was universally supposed to be one of the better ones people had eaten, with white rum and white raisins; my aunt loved it. I couldn't stand it.
What is citron, anyway? was my next thought on this subject. I've always really disliked citron. It doesn't seem to have any identity to it or any taste. It's like a jujube without the flavoring. Is it some sort of processed lemon peel? It merited investigation, so I did some research... thank goodness for Google.
Here is the definition, off the Food Network website:
Definition: [SIHT-ron] 1. This semitropical citrus fruit looks like a huge (6 to 9 inches long), yellow-green, lumpy lemon. Citron pulp is very sour and not suitable for eating raw. This fruit is grown instead for its extremely thick peel, which is candied and used in baking. Before candying, the peel is processed in brine and pressed to extract citron oil, used to flavor liqueurs and to scent cosmetics. Candied citron can be purchased fresh in specialty markets, or with preservatives (necessary for the expected long shelf life) in supermarkets. Either should be stored in the freezer for maximum freshness. Candied citron halves are sometimes available, but it will more likely be found chopped or in strips. 2. Citron (pronounced see-TRAWN) is also the French word for "lemon"; citron vert (VEHR) is "lime."
Ever since reading this, I have carried in my mind the image of some deprived nineteenth-century ten-year-old kid gnawing on fruitcake. Hershey bars are as yet unknown. To this poor sod, candied citron is as good as it gets. ("Please, sir, may I have some more?") But this entry explained why citron has no flavor... it's all been sucked out with the citron oil. So when you next see those tasteless, transparent chunks in your fruitcake, should you be rash enough to eat any, you will understand that the function of citron is to say, "Yes, this is fruitcake. Here is your federally mandated candied something-or-other."