We didn’t grow up eating grapefruit. In terms of citrus, my family ate oranges, with maybe some mandarins here and there on special occasions. In fact, I don’t think I tasted grapefruit until I was an adult living on my own, and its sharp bitter sourness was initially so shocking that I couldn’t understand how people liked it. Its flavour seemed to match the people who had affinity for it: people that proudly proclaimed their preference for grapefruit seemed to be as sharp and opinionated as their acerbic nourishment. Perhaps they grew more angular for being able to stomach such a punch, or their inherent toughness allowed for such a blow – either way, I couldn’t quite relate.
Until now. At the risk of becoming a smug, pinkish-yellow fruited contrarian, I’m really into grapefruit these days.
First, there’s the colour. The dusty rose jewels of flesh are equally soothing and refreshing for the eyes in the middle of a gloomy grey winter. It has become a favourite mid-afternoon break to stand at the kitchen counter and gently peel the scraggly white membrane to reveal little pink gems (technically called endocarp, by the way).
Then, there’s the heft. They are the size of softballs, but even heavier; so that if you were to hurl one at a passing car that has just splashed you with dirty street slush as it buzzed by, you could do some serious damage. It would be a waste of grapefruit though. Also, please stop splashing pedestrians with your driving. Thanks.
And of course, the surprise of it. Grapefruit is energizing! While the soft pinkish hue and subtle aroma suggest a demure flavour, all of a sudden there is a powerful punch of sweet-sour-bitter when a wedge is pressed against the roof of your mouth with your tongue.
For me the surprise is always the bitterness, and I find it is revivifying – a welcome jolt to prevent a full-on slide into the winter blues – complementing the soporific soups and stews typically consumed during these cave-dwelling dark months of the year. Then, there is a quiet hush of sweetness that softens the harsh bitterness. I am glad for complicated flavour, especially for the inclusion of bitter, as we plod on in this age of conventional farming and its desires for uniform blandness.
I’m not completely sure if I’m getting tougher by eating punchy citrus fruit, but I certainly could use a dose of tenacity. What I am certain of is that our food cravings can provide insight into the needs of our inner lives. According to Ayurveda, there are six tastes in food (sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, astringent) – all with their benefits and pleasures. Bitterness is especially useful for creating a sense of cleansing and resetting. It is for this reason I think that I’ve been craving grapefruit so much – this past year, while, having had many joyful and delightful moments, has also been incredibly heavy, grief-ridden, and tough – and the ground has not settled yet. Tenacity aside, I’m gladly welcoming a sense of renewal, even if it is only a momentary respite that comes in pink bulbous form.
Despite its potential mood-altering capabilities, when you are captivated by something and compelled to buying big bags of it, you have to eat them sometime or another. And even as much as I love grapefruit right now, there are only so many I can eat in their raw and solo form before my palate feels a little punished by the repeated slaps of bitterness.
They say when you have lemons, you make lemonade.
When you have grapefruit, you make a bunch of things.
First, a cooked salad.
Winter calls for root vegetables. This beet salad answers that call. A tumble of roasted beets that have been peeled and sliced, are adorned with nibs of grapefruit, toasted almond, and shredded mint. A simple sprinkle of white balsamic vinegar and sea salt keep the flavours very clean and crisp, though a dribble of peppery olive oil would also be lovely.
Everyone seems scared of sugar these days (except when it comes to double-tapping photos of sugar-laden foods on social media), but there’s really no danger of overdoing it with this marmalade because it is also decidedly bitter. The albedo (the white layer between the peel and the fruit) contains pectin, which is necessary for thickening the marmalade, and its inclusion ensures an acerbic note. The alchemy of simply combining grapefruit and sugar to create a sticky, lumpy mass of translucent coral is both incredibly satisfying and fascinating. A bumpy slick of gentle pink across a slice of sourdough toast is a beautiful beginning to the day, and a hopeful harbinger of better things to come.
3 cups sugar
2-4 whole star anise (optional)
With a sharp paring knife, cut off the zest (be sure to include some of the albedo) of the four grapefruits. Cut into small bits. Peel off and discard as much of the remaining albedo and membrane. Cut the grapefruit flesh into rounds, removing the seeds.
Add the zest bits and grapefruit rounds to a large pot, along with the sugar and star anise (if using; it adds a subtle je ne sais quoi). Bring to a boil, and use a wooden spoon to break up the pieces of fruit. Turn the heat down to a simmer, and let it keep going for at least 10 minutes, if not longer, until it reaches a consistency that you like. You can test the consistency by putting a spoonful of marmalade on a plate, and sticking it in the freezer for five minutes to quickly cool it down. If it’s still runny, keep letting the marmalade cook down.
In the meantime, sterilize a few jars to eventually put the marmalade in. I always use an array of sizes, so I’m terrible at giving advice as to how many, so good luck with that?! I sterilize my jars by filling them with boiling water and letting them sit five minutes before pouring the water out. Probably not totally sterile to the nth degree, but good enough for me. I also don’t bother with boiling the marmalade in the jars later to sterilize them – I am just too lazy, and so I keep the marmalade in the fridge.
Okay, when the marmalade has reached a consistency you like, spoon it into your semi-sterile jars, and screw the lid on! Remember that as it cools it’ll get thicker. If you prefer less bitterness in your marmalade, you can decrease the amount of zest – to some taste testers I overdid it by using the zest of all four grapefruits, so own your choices and decide for yourself. Be inspired by the grapefruit, and be bold!