A friend of mine recently returned from the Florida Earthskills Gathering, an event that brings together builders, hunters, herbalists, basket weavers, storytellers, tool makers, woodworkers and other generally talented and awesome people of all kinds. It is also an incredible excuse to jump ship in the middle of Appalachian winter and head down to sunny, breezy, sweet-livin’ Florida, where February means flowers as big as your head and citrus that literally drips from the trees.
Anyways, a couple friends of mine live on land down in central Florida that is surrounded by nothin by wilderness– live oaks, long leaf pines, cypress trees and, you guess it, citrus, citrus, citrus. From what I hear from those lucky post-Earthskills visitors it was a veritable feast. As with all wild foods, you never know exactly what you’re going to get. All the variants that come with living and growing in the wild means, well, that the results are a bit wild too! Some years the citrus is bitter as seed, while others they are all as sour as unripe lemons! This year, apparently, was a very good year.
When my friend showed up in my kitchen last week with a whole potato sack of wild citrus I was elated! He had just spent the entire day traveling back to the mountains, a long drive fueled solely on citrus, so he declined any further bites. I, on the other hand, palmed an orange immediately and dug right in. Wow! I have never tasted such crushingly sweet, juicy, and interestingly delicate citrus in my life! I swear, I can taste the sun inside of them. Every time I imbibe I must eat them over the sink or out on the grass because its like cradling a bowl of OJ. I love everything about them. How rough and weathered they appear on the outside, how stubbornly they give up their skin, even how many seeds pop out into my mouth or flow down my hands like small canoes on a sweet and frothy river. Perfection. Winter has been pretty mild around these parts but, even so, halving open a beautiful wild fruit in the middle of a bare February day in the mountains is nothing short of bliss.