Winter fruits from Florida brighten dull days with color. Use them as a centerpiece and just take away a piece when the mood strikes. The unusual pommelo, a relative of the grapefruit, is impressive enough to take its place on a pedestal. Colors of the sunrise mingle with tart-sweet taste to help chase away winter blues at Watershed in Decatur. Even wine can celebrate citrus. These Sauvignon Blancs, found in Watershed’s wine shop, possess lovely citrus notes.
Once the holidays have passed, with all their sparkle and cheer, most of us settle into the business of, well, business. Goals are set, financial plans are made, and life becomes a little more serious. Short days and cold weather put a little bit of heaviness on everything. Clothes are thicker and food is heartier. Spring is a long way off.
Fortunately, nature has a quick and easy remedy for these seasonal blahs. Citrus fruits are little packages of sunshine that arrive in the dead of winter and can dramatically lift our spirits on dreary days. Older folks wax poetic about getting that rare orange in their Christmas stocking. For them, oranges and grapefruit were a luxury. Citrus was expensive and hard to obtain. Now we can easily get all types of juicy oranges, lemons, limes, clementines, tangerines, tangelos and grapefruit—and bask any time in a much-needed blast of mid-winter sunshine.
The simple pleasure of eating a slice of citrus is hard to beat, but when the fruit makes its way into dishes, sweet and savory, as well as into the glass, it becomes gourmet. Watershed restaurant in Decatur is known for heralding traditional foods of the American South in a thoughtful manner. It proves that Southern food provides its own brand of sophistication, and Chef Scott Peacock and his staff allow those flavors to shine without feeling the need to put a “twist” on things.
In addition to boasting one of the “sunniest” restaurants in the city, with its gigantic windows, pleasant robin’s egg greens and blues and blonde wood, the friendly staff and fresh menu ensure that patrons feel warm and welcome. Sitting at Watershed’s bar during the day is like transporting yourself to a sunny vacation spot. Dining room manager and bartender Daniel Morrison has worked at Watershed for nearly eight years, and he notes that one of the best things the restaurant ever did for its beverage service was to get a hand-operated citrus juicer. “Not only does it look impressive at the bar with its chrome gleam,” Daniel explains, “when we start placing halves of oranges and grapefruit in, pulling the lever, forcing the juice straight into a customer’s glass, everyone around wants ‘what that guy is having.’ ”
It’s true. The tangy fragrance of the fruit fills the air, and customers can see the juice of two oranges go into each glass. Watershed goes through a 50-pound case of oranges every Sunday morning as one employee is assigned to fill pitchers with Valencia juice for that day’s brunch service. Cocktails are made with the juice as well, and serious mixologists like Daniel know that each drop that goes into a cocktail should be the best product available.
Ross Jones, one of Watershed’s owners and its beverage buyer, takes ingredients just as seriously as the chefs do. She seeks and finds beautiful wines but also flavorful liqueurs and infusions. Her sojourns to the Napa Valley introduced her to Charbay Vodka. The folks at Charbay make wine but also wanted to do something exciting with distillation. They wondered why flavored spirits always taste like just that, flavored spirits; like a bottle of regular vodka with some extract thrown in. Using real fruits such as blood orange, Meyer lemon, ruby red grapefruit and key lime, Charbay incorporates the fruit in the distillation process, thus an infusion of citrus in the vodka instead of mere flavoring. Ross noticed the delicious difference a few years back, and Watershed’s cocktail menu took a creative turn. The bartenders were given the challenge of coming up with really lovely cocktails, fresh and unpretentious. Once the hand juicer hit the bar, the flavor profiles were pushed over the top. “We’re about flavor and ingredients and using things in season,” says executive sous chef Steven Satterfield. “We make marmalades and lemon curds, champagne grapefruit gelee and serve it alongside a simple dressed green salad. When those ingredients are in season and abundant, we do something with them.”
Sitting at the bar, soaking in the light, smells and tastes on a winter afternoon, we are inspired by sentiments like Steven’s and Daniel’s. Fresh-squeezed juice is a possibility at home. Spending a couple of hours making marmalade or lemon curd means that on another day, when you are typing away at your computer, the wind whipping around outside, you can grab a warm piece of toast or slice of pound cake and slather on a luxurious homemade delicacy.
Even easier: Get up, stretch your legs, then peel an orange. The sunny smell and juicy sections refresh your senses and may even inspire you to get back to your desk and figure out when to break away for your next Florida vacation.
Angie Mosier on…
Florida Citrus”I’ve been in citrus for 30 years; I know citrus,” the woman said in a thick, New Jersey accent. I work as a food stylist, and a few years back I was hired to work on a citrus grower’s retail catalog. Gorgeous photographs of perfect orange segments and pristine grapefruit halves were to show glistening, swollen fruits full of color and flavor. The woman, I will call her Doris, was the marketing director for the family-run orchard, which was seeking to expand its business beyond wholesale to the “fancy foods” market.
Doris instructed me to go through cases of citrus fruits, picking the largest ones with the absolutely most beautiful skins. Next came the polishing of the fruit, not just washing them, but buffing them with a clean, inside-out tube sock. “The slightly rough texture will provide gentle exfoliation,” Doris chirped.
Her chirping, and perhaps the smell of all those oranges, made me think of the Florida “Orange Bird.” The mascot of the Florida citrus industry was a friendly little orange-colored bird with a head shaped like an orange. He made his way into most of the Florida tourism industry media as well as commercials featuring singer Anita Bryant. I thought back to family vacations, which usually meant traveling through central Florida, speeding past endless orange groves. My brother and I knew we were getting close to our destination when, in the distance, rose the “Citrus Tower” located in Kissimmee.
At one time this orange and white tower stood in the midst of miles of orange groves. The tower is still there and still open to the public, but Orlando sprawl has turned the orange groves into strip malls and such. Back then the tower was an oasis of sorts. It was a “Welcome to Florida Orange Country” and meant a rest stop, a snack break and free samples of fresh orange juice.