California Citrus State Historic Park - Sara’s Kitchen Adventures
By Sara De Leeuw
Happy New Year! Here in Southern California we are in the midst of citrus season. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the abundance of our local citrus than to visit The California Citrus State Historic Park for this month's adventure!
The California Citrus State Historic Park, located in Riverside California, opened in August of 1993. Just 24 years young, this park strives to capture and share the iconic role Riverside played in the development of the California Citrus industry. Situated on 400 acres, the park has both working groves and varietal groves. There are over 100 different varieties of citrus grown at the park.
The Museum and Visitors Center are open Fridays - Sundays with exhibits, as well as a lovely little gift shop, where visitors can purchase citrus themed items. There are self-guided tours offered daily, but to get the best overview and some fun and fabulous citrus facts, the California Citrus State Historic Park offers guided tours on the weekends.
We took one of the "Tour and Taste" tours on our visit to the park, which are free to the public. Our guide was Michael, one of the park docents, and he was a wealth of information! You’ll walk along paths lined with old smudge pots and see views stretching for miles across Riverside county, not to mention learning about the abundance of citrus trees.
On our tour we saw: Kumquats, Finger Limes, Citron, Mandarin, Buddhas Hand, Calamondin, Tangelo, and Pomelos, just to name a few. We also saw a good deal of the birds and other wildlife that thrive in the park. It’s a little piece of history right in our own backyard!
After the walking tour, we came back to the Museum to taste some of the fruit we picked from the groves. Since the groves are part of a State Park, visitors can sample citrus only as part of the guided tours. Taking fruit from the trees otherwise is strictly prohibited. Michael cut open over 10 different citrus for us to see and taste.
California has a rich history with citrus that dates back to the 18th century, however it was in 1873, when two trees from the National Arboretum in Washington D.C. were shipped to Eliza Tibbets and her family in Riverside. The trees were a “new” orange variety named the “Washington Navel Orange.” The fruit was seedless with a bright orange peel that came away from the fruit easily. Both trees thrived under Eliza’s care. Since navel oranges have no seeds, cuttings from the original trees had to be used to build other oranges groves. Here in Southern California, almost every single navel orange tree is a descendant of two original trees. One of the original trees is still growing and can be seen at the corner of Arlington and Magnolia in Riverside.
I was so inspired by our visit and the variety of citrus trees and fruits! It was hard to find a single recipe to share. Shortbread cookies also have a long history (dating back to Scotland as early as the 12th century), so putting them together with these historic oranges just made sense. I used Tangelos for this recipe, but really, any kind of citrus would be a wonderful addition to these cookies.
Chocolate Dipped Orange Shortbread Cookies
2 sticks ( 8 oz ) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Juice and Zest of 1 orange
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
12 oz chocolate chips
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Add the vanilla and almond extract, orange juice and zest and blend well. Add the flour and salt and stir until just combined.
Gather the dough into a ball and split it into two even pieces. Flatten each piece into a disc and wrap individually in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough until firm, about 1 hour.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper and set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the disks of dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out the cookies using your favorite cookie cutter. Place cut cookies on the prepared baking sheets. Gather scraps from the dough, re-roll and continue to cut out cookies. Repeat with the remaining disc of dough.
Bake the cookies for 20 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Depending on the size of your cookies, start checking them at 15 minutes. For larger cookies, it may take up to 25 minutes. Remove cookies from the oven and allow to cool completely.
While the cookies are cooling, melt the chocolate chips in a shallow bowl. Heat on 50% power in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth. (Mine took 90 seconds, stirring 3 times!) Dip each cookie in the melted chocolate to cover 1/4 to 1/2 of the cookie. Place the dipped cookies on parchment lined baking sheet or on wax paper and allow to set.
Park Hours and Information:
9400 Dufferin Ave.
Riverside, CA 92504
Parking $5 per vehicle
Seniors $4 per vehicle
Monday - Friday 8 AM to 5 PM
Saturday & Sunday 8 AM to 5 PM
Visitor Center, Museum & Gift Shop:
Open Friday, Saturday & Sunday | Hours: 10 AM to 4 PM | 951-637-8044