Citrus Star

Doram Gaunt
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Doram Gaunt

E very year, on the weekend just after the first rain, the kids put on their rubber boots and we all drive to the citrus orchard at the entrance to Moshav Hemed near Or Yehuda for pomelit picking. Each year there are more and more cars in the make-shift parking lot outside; this time we found it almost impossible to find a spot without cutting a new space in the tall, thorny hedges around the orchard. For a token fee, paid at the gate, we get a large, empty cardboard box.

Kids and box in tow, we make our way into the depths of the orchard, and there we split up: The children do the picking, while the adults pull out a small, serrated knife, peel, eat and serve pomelit - one of the most wondrous fruits in the citrus family, juicy and marvelously sweet, with a moderate tanginess and pleasant texture. Citrus fruit should be eaten straight from the tree, as we ourselves often did as children. Sadly, most of the varieties sold commercially are so over-treated and over-handled, transported and refrigerated, that by the time they come to us from the store, they are often large and attractive, but also pale, tasteless and disappointing.

When the box is full - and weighing at least 15 kilograms - we stagger to the car. At first this seemed like an enormous quantity, and we imagined that we would need to pass on the excess to neighbors and relatives. But every last delicious fruit was snatched up and consumed; few people outside the immediate family even had a chance to taste it.

Miriam and Mordechai's orchard, outside Moshav Hemed, is open every Saturday in season, 10 A.M. - 1 P.M. For details, call 050-525-7037.

The happy hybrid

Most fruit and vegetables we come across don't have a known date and place of birth. The pomelit does. In 1958, scientists at the Citrus Experiment Station at the University of California in Riverside managed to create a cross between a grapefruit and a pomelo. The result was excellent: a fruit as juicy and succulent as a grapefruit, but as sweet and tasty as a pomelo, without the sour, bitter flavor of the former. The fruit itself was slightly larger than a grapefruit, with a thick, green peel that turned yellow with time. It was easy to peel and practically seedless. In 1981, the University of California patented the new species, which is known around the world as Oro Blanco ("white gold," in Spanish) and considered by many simply to be a sweeter variety of grapefruit.

The pomelit "made aliyah" in 1984. The warm climate needed for growing it and the local predilection for sweet citrus ensured its success, and it soon became one of us. If you factor in the low-calorie content and its other benefits (a recent medical study found that the pomelit contains more antioxidants than any other citrus fruit, and that drinking pomelit juice on a regular basis lowers the level of bad cholesterol, and helps reduce the risk of blocked arteries and heart attacks) - it is practically the perfect fruit.

Israel now boasts some 10,000 dunams (2,500 acres) of pomelit orchards, accounting for one of the country's leading export branches, with some 14,000 tons sent abroad each year. The local pomelit (marketed in the world under the brand-name "Sweetie") has become especially popular in Japan (where some 4,500 tons are shipped each year) and in Poland (4,000 tons); the rest is sent mainly to European destinations.

The pomelit is best eaten as is, as close to picking as possible. Early in the season, around November, the fruit is solid (about 12 percent sugar and 30 percent juice) and better for peeling and eating. Toward the season's end in March, the sugar and juice levels rise, making the ones still on the branch increasingly juicy and sweet, and more suitable for squeezing. The pomelit is peeled like an orange, but the bitter pith that covers the segments also needs to be removed. Peeled pomelit sections work well in fruit or vegetable salads, and the peel can be cooked in sugar syrup until it becomes a fine candy. Of course, the pomelit can also be used for making juice, sorbet, ice cream and sauces.