Lemons and Citrus
Arizona is one of only four citrus-producing states in the nation. Once one of Arizona’s most popular agricultural products, and one of the historic “Five Cs” of Arizona’s economic development, commercial citrus production has dwindled to below 20,000 acres due to urban development, land repurposing, the rising threat of pests, and the rising costs of transportation and packaging. Lemons comprise the vast majority of Arizona's remaining commercial citrus production, most of which has moved from the Salt River Valley of central Arizona to Yuma County. However, citrus trees remain a staple in yards across Arizona’s lowlands, where they are protected from frosts that wipe out crops and even kill trees.
Though often associated with the sunny flavors of summer, citrus fruit ripens in winter, typically from November to March. (Citrus varieties are considered to be evergreens, as the trees retain their leaves all year!) During these months, groves around Surprise open their gates to pickers and sell oranges, lemons, and grapefruit by the bagful.
Cotton Lane Citrus/Fresian Groves supply a unique mix of lemon, orange and grapefruit – and by unique, we mean this fruit grows on the same tree! Cotton Lane originated as a grapefruit grove to supply juice for grapefruit-flavored soda. When the soda factory closed, the grove’s owners decided to shift focus and sell oranges – more commercially popular by far-- direct to consumers. To expedite the orange bearing process, growers simply grafted orange stock onto the maturing grapefruit trees. Visitors to the grove are now greeted with a “one stop shop” for orange and grapefruit – one tree bears both varieties!
Before it closed in 2016, Truman Ranch II offered a kalideoscope of citrus varieties. A former experimental plot managed by the University of Arizona, the grove contained over 87 varieties of citrus, ranging from beloved types of sweet orange to the exotic sour lime from Southeast Asia (warning: this lime is orange in color), and everything in between.
Recipe: Greek-Inspired Lemon Chicken
6 tbsp olive oil
1.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into strips
One whole lemon (any variety)
¼ cup red onion, julienned (approximately ¼ onion)
2 cloves garlic
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tbsp fresh parsley or 2 tsp dried parsley
2 oz feta cheese
*2 oz white wine or 2 tbsp butter if desired
8 oz cooked pasta of your choice (recommended: angel hair)
Add olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed frying pan over medium low heat. Wash the lemon and cut it crosswise into 1/8 inch round slices. DO NOT PEEL, but remove the seeds from the slices and cut the slices into quarters. Place the lemon slices in the bottom of the pan and sauté gently for about 5 minutes.
Chop garlic, rosemary and parsley, set aside.
Julienne the red onion, add to lemon slices and cook until aromatic, 4-5 minutes. Turn over the lemon slices. Season the chicken strips with desired amount of salt and pepper and add them to the pan, along with the chopped garlic and rosemary.
Turn heat up slightly and stir fry the chicken/lemon/herb mixture until chicken is no longer pink in the center (5-7 minutes). *Add wine or butter if desired for a thicker sauce.
Lower heat and add cooked pasta, parsley, and crumbled feta cheese to pan, cooking for 1-2 minutes to coat the pasta.
Serve and enjoy. The lemon will soften with cooking and add a tart, bright flavor to the dish.