The Blossom Trail — a 60-some mile stretch through the Central Valley’s orchards — is just starting to kick into gear this time of year. There will be stretches of peach, almond, apricot and plum trees in almost impossibly bright shades for the next month or so.
But first, before any of them, come the oranges. February and early March are orange season. The Central Valley right now will be dotted with packing crates and trucks full of bright orange spheres.
I don’t know about you, but most of the folks I know are sort of lukewarm about oranges. They’ll buy them to juice or make smoothies from. Very rarely do people seem to eat them whole. This, my friends, is the tragedy of the grocery store orange.
My theory is that most people have never had a really good, fresh orange. In fact, the very best oranges in the United States are not sold in the United States. The best oranges (at least in the part of citrus country I’m from) are sold to Japan.
Whaaaat. Japan. Yes.
However, if you happen to live near the orange orchards, you’re in luck. Every year, my dad makes a trip to the local Sunkist plant to buy a box of culls — the oranges that are too ugly to sell — for dirt cheap. Man, are they good. And every once in a while, he’ll also buy a box of what’s known as “McSweeny’s Prides.” These are boxes right off the packing line headed for Japan (it’s bizarre to see the familiar orange crates printed in Japanese characters). And yes, there is a Mr. McSweeny — apparently Dad had to convince one of the employees to go get him this year so that the employee could confirm it was okay to sell Dad the box.
Naturally, when I learned about this, I begged Mom to mail me a few. A FEW. Six, at the most. They don’t keep very long at their freshest.
A few days later, I received in the mail not six oranges, but approximately two dozen. I meant to share them with my coworkers, but as timing worked out, a week-long conference got in the way. By the time I got back, those beauties tasted like they were fresh off the grocery store shelf.
Maybe I can convince Dad to wheedle some more out of Mr. McSweeny before orange season ends…