Storing Citrus Fruits

Storing Citrus - baskets of limes, lemons and oranges newly harvested.

There are so many ways of storing citrus fruits and some are great for some varieties and not for others.

The old way was to dry fruits that could tolerate it.

Then the advent of technology and the desire to transport the crop overseas saw the rise of waxing oranges and lemons in the commercial market. Now we have almost come full circle and with increased interest in organic products that have had as little chemical intervention as possible, we are back to natural fruit which is chilled, packaged and transported – ideally only a short distance – keeping it as fresh as possible.

Of course, waxing and vast commercial chillers aren’t feasible for a home produced crop of tangerines, but there are still a number of options available to make the most of your citrus harvest.

Storing Citrus

You don’t need huge amounts of expensive equipment to start storing citrus at home.

Drying

Storing citrus by drying them may seem old-fashioned, but it’s still a valid way of extending the life of your fruit without resorting to chemicals or complicated processes.

The secret to keeping oranges using this method is to dry them fully before you lay them aside in your pantry. Lay your lemons and oranges on a tray and leave them in a hot, sunny spot. In the window of your garden shed (or greenhouse, if you have one) or even the back window of your car. I’ve known people with chickens to use egg incubators successfully. The only drawback is that it’s not a quick process and full drying can take a few months.

The result is smaller, hard-skinned fruit which may not look at appealing at their fresh cousins, but which taste great.

The drying method is good for oranges and lemons, but not clementines and mandarins.

You can also dry citrus fruit in slices. You can buy food hydrators designed specifically for this, or you can pop prepared trays of slice lemons and grapefruits in a low oven overnight. A wintery glass of mulled wine is extra special when served with a slice of dried blood orange garnishing it!

Refrigerating

This obviously doesn’t work with huge quantities of fruit, but most citrus will sit happily in the crisper drawer of your fridge for a few weeks as long as it’s clean when it goes in and you keep it dry.

I always know that summer is on the way when my oranges start rotting in the fruit bowl on my kitchen benchtop only a few days after I’ve harvested them. From that point on, I try to make room for them in the veggie drawer.

For smaller quantities of fruit, this is the easiest way of storing citrus.

Preserving

Marmalade – in all its wondrous forms – is a fabulousl way of storing citrus.

Whilst I confess that whisky and orange (with a hint of ginger) is a personal favourite, there are as many types of marmalade sitting on larder shelves as there are varieties of citrus grown across the country.

Not as common, but still worth mentioning is the turning fruit into glace form or crystalising it. After all, what is a festive celebration without a glace clementine in their somewhere or other?!

Boxing

Although the fruits won’t last as long, you can simply box up your oranges and grapefruits in specially made racks or on layers of tissue paper and store when in a cool, dry place. The key is try and stop the fruit from touching one another – that way, if one of them starts to turn, the rot won’t spread as quickly to the others.

Bottling/Canning

Australia has a rich history of bottling various fruits. It makes sense that before the advent of refrigeration, people extended the lives of their fresh produce by brining and pickling their excess harvest. And if you come from a Mediterranean background, you’ll know that storing citrus this way is an art form.

From the salted, preserved lemons of middle eastern cooking to huge jars of sliced oranges sitting in the pantry of my Sicilian-born neighbour, we Australians have learnt to work with seasonal gluts and a harsh climate to ensure we are well-fed all year round.

Storing Citrus - Moroccan  preserved salted lemons in glass jar on white wooden table

Juicing

Although juicing and freezing large quantities of fruit is not the most efficient method of storing citrus – especially as it requires vast amounts of freezer space – I am a fan of squeezing a few of my excess lemons and limes, when they are in season, and freezing the juice in ice cube trays. I then pop the frozen squares out into freezer bags and store them in the deep freeze until I need a tablespoon or 2 of juice in a recipe.

And whilst we are on the topic of freezing citrus, I also cut my leftover limes into sixths and freeze them in batches for drinks over the summer months.

Vacuum Sealing

If you vacuum seal your fruit, you can keep it for months in a cool place in your pantry.

Vacuum sealing is all about putting the item that you want to preserve in a strong plastic bag and then sucking all the excess air out (which includes any unwanted bacteria) and sealing the bag shut until you want to eat its contents.

Storing citrus this way is highly effective.

Please see this article if you’d like to know more about vacuum sealers.

Waxing

Difficult to do at home, waxing lemons and oranges has been a popular process for storing citrus commercially.

Nowadays, we’re leaning more towards untouched produce and there are plenty of supermarkets proudly selling ‘unwaxed’ lemons etc.

And if you buy waxed fruit and want to get the coating off? Rinse it under hot water or give it a scrub with a scourer.

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