Produce Pete: Navel Oranges, the Seasons Main Squeeze

All my life, perhaps nothing has reminded me of my mother more than navel oranges at Christmas.

Growing up in Bergenfield to Italian immigrant parents in the 50s and 60s, money was always tight and, while northeastern apples were plentiful in our area all fall and winter, oranges from Florida or California were an exotic novelty for our family. Ill never forget how mom would wrap navel oranges in colored foil or paper and put them in my and my younger brother Davids stockings for Christmasand the joy wed get when wed unwrap them! We never wasted anything in our housenot even the peels from the oranges, which my mom would put in a used tin pie plate with water and place on the radiator to give our house a great citrusy aroma.

I remember once telling these stories to my granddaughter Alexandra, to which she rolled her eyes and said really, Poppy? Its a whole different era todayone where kids get expensive video games or keys to cars as gifts, not orangesbut I still get choked up when I think of what mom did with so little and the love and care she always put into making our holidays special. To me, thats what families and holidays are all about.

All About Oranges

Youll see oranges in the supermarket all year, but navelswhich are renowned for their clean, discernible sectionsare available now through Easter and are truly at their best and sweetest right around Christmas. While the two most familiar varieties of oranges are navels and Valencias, California navel oranges are considered by many to be the best oranges in the world for eating out of hand. They have a meaty flesh, their thick rinds are easy to peel, the segments separate easily, and they have no seeds. All navel oranges have a navel at the blossom end (an opening with a convoluted interior that looks like, well, a navel); some have a very small navel while others have a larger one.

While California is the largest producer of navel oranges, its not always safe to assume that a Florida orange is a Valencia juice orange and a California orange is a navel. Texas and Florida also grow navel oranges, which are on the market between late fall and the end of January. The Florida navel comes in all sizes, from tennis-ball to softball size, and doesnt have as much color as the California variety; the rind will be bronze to light orange, with a richer orange color later in the season. Florida navels are, of course, seedless, but they have a higher juice content and a thinner rind thats not as easy to peel as California navels. Despite their relatively pale color, theyre good oranges and very sweet. Here again, check the blossom endif its stampedFloridabut has a navel, its a navel orange.

Navel oranges. Photo courtesy of Susan Bloom

Five Fun Facts About Oranges

There are over 600 different varieties of oranges.
An orange tree is highly productive and with proper care can produce fruit for well up to 70-80 years.
Oranges are outstanding sources of vitamin C and fiber.
Florida is the top orange producer in the U.S., but Brazil leads the world in orange production, producing about half of the worlds orange juice and 80 percent of the worlds orange concentrate.
The word orange hails from a Sanskrit dialect and translates to fragrant.

Selecting and Storing Oranges

Whatever the variety, look for oranges that are shiny andheavy in the hand. Also check the scentthe orange should smell good, not fermented, and the rind should never feel puffy. (It shouldnt feel like theres any space between the rind and the flesh.) There should also be no spotting, no signs of shriveling, and no white patches on the rind.

Unlike more perishable tangerines, oranges can be kept out at room temperature for three or four days with little problem. Refrigerate them in a plastic bag or in the crisper drawer and theyll keep well for one to two weeks.

In the Napolitano family, my wife Bettes famous navel orange cake represents the best of the holiday season and is always a big hit in our household at Christmastime. We hope you like it too and wish you all the best for a happy and healthy holiday season!

Bettes Best Navel Orange Cake

Produce Pete discusses the nuances of navel oranges with anchorwoman Jen Maxfield during a segment of NBC Weekend Today in New York. Photo courtesy of courtesy of NBC/Produce Pete


For cake:
pound (2 sticks) butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
1 cup sour cream
teaspoon baking soda
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Rind of one orange, grated
5 tablespoons fresh navel orange juice

For icing:
1 cups confection sugar
2 tablespoons fresh navel orange juice
1 tablespoon navel orange rind, grated


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a tube pan and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together and then add sour cream. Sift flour and baking soda together. Add to creamed mixture, alternately with eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Add extract, navel orange rind, and navel orange juice and stir to combine. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool cake in pan for about 10 minutes and then release and cool completely on a wire rack. Mix together icing ingredients with a whisk until the mixture has a thick liquid consistency. Drizzle over cake while still warm.

About Produce Pete Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jerseys own Produce Pete Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author, and television personality whos appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBCsWeekend Today in New Yorkbroadcastevery Saturday mornings for over 27 years.For more information, visit Petes website.

About Susan Bloom
A contributor toNew Jersey Monthlyand a variety of other well-known local and national publications,SusanBloomis an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. Shes collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for nearly a decade.

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