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Fruits of good fortune

Citrus delivers more than good flavor and nutrition during the dark, cold days of winter.

Good fortune for the months ahead is citrus' significance during Chinese new year.

Fruits such as oranges, kumquats and pomelos are traditional for the Lunar New Year, which began Jan. 31 and culminates Friday, Feb. 14. Citrus is used for decoration, given for gifts or enjoyed as snacks. But there is no shortage of ways for cooking citrus, as shown in demonstrations planned this month at Ashland Food Co-op.

"They add a lot of excitement to a recipe," says Mary Shaw, the Co-op's culinary education specialist.

Oranges and lemons are the main ingredients in a marmalade available for sampling at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, in the store at 237 N. First St. The diverse array of citrus, including sweet limes and finger limes that are new to the store, can be tasted from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Citrus, for the Chinese, is rich in symbolism for its color, shape and the puns that can be derived from their Chinese names, says Terese Tse Bartholomew, curator emeritus of Himalayan art and Chinese decorative art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and author of the book "Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art."

"It's the color of gold," says Bartholomew of oranges. "People want the new year to bring them money."

During the new year, adults will place two oranges, preferably with leaves still attached as a sign of green life, along with red envelopes of money next to the pillows of sleeping children, she says.

An orange is called "gut" in Cantonese, which ties in with "dai gut," or good fortune, explains Bartholomew. Pomelo is called "you," which sounds like the Cantonese word for "to have." So households will have one, preferably two, pomelos on hand to symbolize the desire "to have all your wishes come true," she says. The Cantonese name for kumquat sounds like "gumgut" and is a pun on gold — "gum" — and good fortune — "dai gut." That's why candied kumquats are a traditional new year's treat.

"A tiny little thing with so much flavor," kumquats are delicious sliced and baked into quick breads or tossed into salads, says Shaw. Larger pieces can be stir-fried, along with mandarin orange segments, which Shaw recently tried in a chicken stir-fry at a co-worker's suggestion.

"I thought it was a wonderful touch," she says.

Try citrus in this stir-fry recipe.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. The Chicago Tribune contributed to this story.

Give a citrusy kick to the Lunar New Year with this recipe for orange ginger chicken. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT) - MCT