Citrus and Pine: Wintertime Favorites For The Palate and The Soul

Jan 01, 2020

All photographs by Christine Moss

Chef Moss’ musings on life and winter introduces the benefits of both citrus and pine to enliven our spirits and nourish our body, mind and souls


The solstice may have just passed, signaling the return of the sun. But the days are still at the short end of the stick and the nights are long, dark and cold here in the Catskills. And yet, nature offers us ways in which to keep our spirits sparkling and our bodies fortified as we await the return of spring’s warmth.

Bundled and hibernating, in alignment with the cycles and seasons, we must connect to our food in a soulful way — look to it for nourishment, to be led by its wisdom.

Citrus fruits are at their best and least expensive this time of year and their benefits support all that ails us during the winter. The bright, sweetly tart flavors cut through that feeling of heaviness that can affect us both physically and emotionally. Overindulgence during the holidays can leave us feeling sluggish and weighed down.

The acids in citrus fruits act in the same ways as vinegars, but are much more pleasant and appealing to the palette. Peeling into a clementine or slicing a pink grapefruit releases the volatile oils stored in the rind and is an immediate aromatherapy mood lifter, illuminating the senses. And when tasted, it reminds us that we still need to hydrate during the dryer winter months — sometimes even more so. Biting into the pithy white parts and experiencing how its bitterness causes us to grimace and salivate, invites us to desire the juicy flesh all the more; meanwhile our digestion has just been activated. It’s actually quite amazing how much punch a single citrus fruit packs in.

There are many ways to bring citrus into your life. A single of orange a day has enough vitamin C to prevent deficiency, but it has so much more than that (fiber, many other vitamins and trace minerals). Fresh squeezed juice is like drinking a glass of sunshine and joy (literally). A simple hand juicer can give you that pleasure each morning before setting out on your day. Not only are you reaping the benefits of using your own hands to create something for yourself, you are also rewarded with the highest quality of juice you can drink. 

A lime in all its beautiful greenness can ease the sting of tequila or its juice can be massaged into cabbage for a quick slaw. A lemon’s tartness can enliven a glass of water (hot or cold) or pair it with fresh rosemary, some melted vegan butter and a splash of white wine and you’ve got a delicious pasta sauce. YUM.

Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit that is more pith than pulp, is used in Japan during the time of winter solstice, tossed into hot baths for its fragrance and health benefits.

Segments of grapefruit can be sliced (learn how to supreme a grapefruit in the photo below) into a dark green salad.

Roast sliced wedges of a cara cara orange with a little maple syrup and eat with some mashed avocado or a peppered cashew cheese on toasted peasant bread. When you keep your preparations simple and basic, it becomes easier to eat well and incorporate healthy food into your already busy life.

But nothing says winter like pine trees. They can be seen everywhere this time of year — an emblem of the holidays, especially Christmas. They are also more visible in the wild as their deciduous neighbors have lost all of their leaves allowing the dark green pines their time to shine in the winter sun. Like citrus, the scent of pine is both uplifting and refreshing. The natural phenols in the fragrant pine trees have been known to reduce stress. Just step into a pine forest and take a deep breath, you’ll feel relief immediately. 

The pine tree can be found in most parts of the world and often has a long history of folklore and legend to accompany it within each culture. It is viewed as the tree of peace by the First Nations of the Americas, and is revered as a tree of longevity and wisdom by the Korean, Chinese and Japanese people. The European pine forests are the birthplaces of many faery tales — the places where elves and dwarves and magical beings reside. 

The mighty pine is said to love the sun and that is why it grows so tall, reaching evermore for the sunlight. We can taste that love of sunlight in the needles, which are a source of vitamin C when prepared as a tea. Just gather a handful of fresh Eastern Hemlock (tsuga canadensis) and White Pine (pinus strobus) needles and rub them between your fingers to release the oils. Place them in your cup and add hot boiled water. Cover the cup to keep the steam in and steep for about ten minutes. Be mindful if longer than that, it will start to taste bitter. Pine needles can also be steeped in warm maple syrup for some magical forest pancakes and french toast.

A few drops of pine tree essential oil can be added to your favorite bath products and body lotions to experience its therapeutic effects. A few drops added to the wax pool of your burning candles or to a diffuser will freshen up your home as well. When you can’t get to the forest in winter, this is a great way to bring the forest to you. Make certain to use an organic essential oil from a well reputed source.

Yes, the holidays have come and gone. A new year is upon us and it’s time to get back to work, but we all need a bit of sweetness to brighten our winter days, too. So, I’ve got some for you: a recipe for an Upside Down Orange and Pistachio Cake. But most of all, please make sure to include some forest time in your winter days, whether outdoors in a park or the woods — or indoors with a little pine scented aromatherapy. Your winter body (and soul) will thank you!

~ Chef Christine Moss, The Garden Cafe Woodstock

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