Last week I wrote about many wonderful citrus gifts you can give through the holidays, so this week I thought I’d share other uses for these versatile fruits.
Use citrus for fragrance. If you have an open fire – indoors or out – put oranges among the refreshments and throw some on the fire. Or save some peel specifically for this use. There is a high content of flammable oil in the skins, and they make good fire starters or kindling. The fragrance of the orange oils mixes delightfully with the smell of burning wood.
A bowl or basket of citrus makes a good centerpiece. Besides providing fragrance, its many shapes, sizes, colors and textures make citrus fruits, flowers and foliage ideal for use in floral arrangements. The fruit might as well look lovely until we eat it, but don’t leave it out of the refrigerator for too long or it will begin to lose quality.
Citrus enhances flavors. Many a baker would appreciate a small container of citrus zest. Evelyn Hamilton of Brandon remembers her mother always peeled an orange round and round in one piece and kept the curly strip on a hook in the kitchen where it dried. She didn’t have a grater but she’d cut that peel with kitchen shears into tiny pieces and used it, especially on sweet potato souffle and other sweet potato dishes.
Lemon vinegar makes a great salad dressing or marinade, especially for fish. There are several ways to make it, but the easiest is to combine two cups of white vinegar or white wine with the rind of two lemons in a tightly covered glass bottle or jar and shake well. Set it on a dry, cool shelf for 10 days, and then strain the vinegar. Mix it with olive oil for salads.
If you take an orange, stud it with whole cloves and float it in a punch bowl of hot apple cider or apple juice, the whole room smells wonderful and the punch is delicious. You might want to use three studded oranges for a large bowl, but one is enough for a conversation piece.
Citrus pomanders also make good air fresheners. Stud the fruit with whole cloves as above, leaving space for some shrinkage, and a strip to put a ribbon around the fruit later. Display them in a bowl or basket with evergreen foliage as a centerpiece as they dry, and then hang them in the closet or put them in a drawer for fragrance. You can use calamondin oranges, lemons or limes, or some of the large kumquats, as well.
Add citrus to potpourri. Citrus peels and leaves add color and fragrance to potpourri and are also a fixative that make the fragrances last longer. Just skin off pieces of the outside rind with a carrot peeler before you eat the fruit.
This information and much more is in my book, “Citrus: How to Grow and Use Citrus Fruits, Flowers and Foliage.”
Today’s pick is the petunia. Every nursery has them now and they can be planted in the ground or in hanging baskets, old wheelbarrows and other containers. They need sun and may need a little water if times get too dry. A bit of fertilizer helps them spread and bloom. They like cold weather but not a deep freeze. I don’t think I’ve ever lost any in Florida winters. They come in many colors and will bloom constantly until next spring.
Now’s the time to add color to your garden with bedding plants of winter annuals, including petunias, snapdragons, pansies, violas, johnny-jump-ups, lobelias and such. Also plant seeds or plants of nasturtiums. All parts of them are edible, eye appealing and nutritious in salads. It’s also a good time to plant lettuces, spinach, radishes and other cold-loving vegetables.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.