February is always a busy time of the year in the valley with the winter citrus harvest. Already 50-60% of the harvest gathered, the cooperativa (the Lecrin Valley’s local farmers’ cooperative) at Melegis is working full pelt with truck loads of local Lecrin Valley oranges being weighed and boxed up every day. Most will be exported overseas for marmalade production.
However on an Andalusian scale and for Spain and northern Africa in general, the harvest is predicted to be down around 25% this year, due to the lack of rain and high temperatures last year. However that has been reported from Cordoba where they have much more extremes than we do in the valley, so hoping the Lecrin Valley harvest is a good one.
The less plentiful harvest means that prices will be driven up… and while some producers will benefit, sadly the local growers won’t, because most of them are tied in to low price contracts with the local ayuntamientos…
If you’re out and about in the Lecrin Valley, don’t think that you can just pick an orange off a tree and eat it. Oranges are not all made equal! Most of the oranges that are grown and harvested at this time of year are naranjas amargas or bitter oranges.
These oranges are great for making marmalade, because they have higher pectin content than sweet oranges, but they’re not for eating whole or putting in salads!
Bitter oranges can be used for making juices, but you’ll need to add sugar. If you’re in shops and supermarkets they’re are generally labeled “zumo” oranges and are the ones you’ll most likely find being sold outside people’s houses and by the roadside.
You can juice these and add sweeter fruit like bananas, mangoes or peaches to make smoothies. The flowers of the bitter orange tree are used for aromatherapy and these days often used in diet products as they’re believed to help weight loss.
If you want to eat fresh oranges in slices, in salads or in other food, look for “naranjas de mesa” or “table oranges”. These are most likely Navel (so-called because of their “tummy button”) or other varieties of sweet oranges.
Andalucia is the second biggest orange producing region (after Valencia) and produces over a million tons of oranges each year.
It’s important to support local growers where we can, so try to buy local and check the labels of oranges in your supermarket.