There are more than 100 varieties of citrus fruits in the world, of which only the most durable usually travel to our corner of the country. Unfair. For an East Coast citrus enthusiast, visiting a California farmers’ market in the winter is an exercise in ecstasy and envy.
“More mandarinquats? a jaded Santa Monican might say, while suppressing the urge to throw a pomelo at their head. Luckily, digitally savvy farms with the help of the US Postal Service can deliver a vibrant and diverse citrus experience right to your doorstep, burning through the winter gloom like a ray of San Diego sunshine.
These shippable fruits don’t come cheap, but as renowned food writer (and citrus mail order leader) Mark Bittman recently told me, “If you like citrus fruits, you’ll do whatever you can allow you to get your hands on it.
The carbon cost of transporting citrus fruits is an undeniable sour note. If only kumquat, limes, sudachi, yuzu and calamansi could grow locally. Well they can, if you happen to have a giant biogas-powered greenhouse like Vivek and Seema Malik, the financiers-turned-farmers behind Bhumi Producers in Florence, New Jersey. “It started as a hobby,” says Seema. “We became citrus growers by accident.”
Nearly 20 years after potting their first yuzu seeds in their living room, the couple maintain a mobile container orchard of thousands of trees representing 16 citrus varieties. Most of their customers are chefs (Nok Suntaranon and Nick Elmi from Philly, and Scott Anderson from Elements in Princeton), but they also ship to acid lovers at home. From November to March, the harvest changes almost weekly, with Nagami, Meiwa and Centennial snackable, explosive and sweet and sour kumquats all currently available through February. $17.99/book + shipping; Bhumigrowers.com
TSA agents who x-rayed Mark Bittman’s carry-on luggage at San Francisco airport circa 2015 reportedly found a treasure trove of Meyer lemons. He had a tree at his home in Berkeley and regularly brought groceries to New York. “When I came back East, I wondered how we were all going to get Meyer lemons back,” he says.
This question led to a citrus shipping partnership, now in its third season, between the author and Bi-Rite, the Bay Area holy market. Representing 20 sustainable California growers, the CA Citrus Experience box changes with the winter micro-seasons: easy-peel Satsumas for bumpy makrut limes, smooth navels for scarlet bloods, and more. “It’s like getting a CSA from California Farmers while living on the East Coast,” Bittman says. “Eating that citrus fruit out of the blue is so joyful.” $80 + shipping for 10 to 12 books; Boutique.biritemarket.com
What sixth-generation farmer Nick Brown’s great-great-grandfather did for lima beans — “He patented the variety that’s become the industry and global standard,” Brown says — he wants the do for passion fruit. “A lot of people have eaten things that taste like passion fruit, but not the real thing. It’s not in the catalog of everyday American memory.
With the next harvest just months away, the current Rincon Tropics Mixed Box compensates with delicately thin-skinned Bearss Limes, Pixie Tangerines, colossal Eureka Lemons that make incredible curd, and more. The fruit is all grown on its relatives and neighbors. farms, where the guiding principle is low intervention. Brown began shipping last year when the pandemic prevented him from meeting customers at the Santa Monica Farmers Market and didn’t formalize the company’s website until September. ” Before it was [Instagram] DMs for every order, which when I think about it, was absolutely insane. Last month, more than 1,200 customers across the country placed orders. From $43 + shipping for four to seven books; Rincontropics.com
Spread across 280 acres of Brentwood, California farmland dedicated to regenerative agriculture, Frog Hollow has been a longtime player in the mail-order citrus game. Al and Becky Courchesne have been growing fruit organically since 1989 and their menu is extensive. Citrus selection is currently on the menu, and shines particularly in the orange and orange aisle: Moro and Sanguinelli sangres, Minneola tangelos, Cara Caras, Navels, Kishu and Tango mandarins, even cosmetically imperfect squeeze fruits but delicious, sold at almost half price. $17.49 (juiced oranges) and $27.99 (all others) + shipping for three pounds; Froghollow.com.