Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Orange You Hungry? Carnitas!

I remember the first time I picked an orange. Not from the produce section. Not from a fruit bowl. Not from the recesses of my Christmas stocking. Picked an orange from a real orange tree.

I remembered it today because I just picked an orange and the smell took me back to the first time I plucked an orange from a tree and held it to my nose. It tingled. No orange from the grocery store smells like that.

Growing up, I ate plenty of oranges. My mom put them in my lunchbox, sliced into skinny wedges so I could eat the good part without fussing with the peels. I didn't much like peeling oranges, except those Christmas mandarins. Truth be told, I liked apples better. And bananas, strawberries, raspberries, grapes and pears. I preferred most fruits to an orange, except at Christmas time.

Until that orange right off the tree. It smelled so wonderful I peeled and ate it then and there with the juice running down my arm and the flavour tingling on my tongue. It was December and I was seven years old. My parents had piled us children (four of us, me the eldest) into the station wagon and drove to California to visit Uncle Guy and Aunt Daisy. They lived in Orange County, Los Angeles. Their street was lined with palm trees and there was an orange tree in their front yard.

As a northern prairie girl, I could think of nothing more marvellous than living in a place with orange trees instead of crab apples and warm winter breezes instead of snow. But I also had the inkling of a deeper insight, one I already knew at heart. The best food is fresh food eaten the day – even the moment – it is picked.

Sure, month-old oranges are good, but minute-old oranges are marvellous. Just as carrots from the garden are sweeter and juicier than store-bought carrots and strawberries picked and eaten are a whole other wonderful than strawberries from who-knows-where and who-knows-when. So I shouldn't have been surprised that summer in Senegal at the amazingly deliciousness of mangoes fresh from the tree. Yet, I was amazed. The difference was so striking, as if the mangoes I bought at home in Canada were made of wax and the mangoes of Senegal were the real deal.

So here I am, vacationing in Mesa, Arizona, where orange trees grow everywhere including the boulevards. It's enough to make my winter heart melt with each warm and juicy bite. The moral of this story, as I see it, is to enjoy my fruits and vegetables where ever I can get them, but to spend an extra moment savouring the absolute pleasure of eating those I pick myself.

Since oranges and limes are abundant here and now, I've been making this Mexican pork dish called carnitas and wrapping it up in flour tortillas with tomatoes, avocados and cilantro. There are two serving options, which are explained below, so take your pick.


Carnitas
3 lb pork roast
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cloves garlic
1-2 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
Juice of 1 big orange
Juice of 1 lime

Trim the pork of obvious fat. Mix cumin, salt and pepper, rub onto the meat and place in the slow cooker. Slice garlic and chilies, adding them to the pot. Pour orange and lime juice over all. Cook on low for 8 hours or more, until pork is tender. Remove the meat from the slow cooker. Strain and reserve the juice.

Finishing option a) Shred the pork with two forks and toss with 1/2 cup of juice, adding more juice as desired for taste and texture. Finishing option b) Pour the juice into a skillet and heat to medium high. Place meat in juice, cooking until the liquid is evaporated and the meat is browned on all sides. Serve in thin slices.

(This article first appeared in Grainews.)

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