December 2, 2020

Citrus at Christmas: Reflecting on Traditions of Holidays Past

By Amanda Rose Newton

One of the perks of living in the sunshine state is the luxury of year-round access to tropical fruit. Right now, the culinary world is having a moment with jackfruit, soursop, and starfruit making once hard to come by fruit the new norm. It is hard to imagine, but midcentury citrus was considered a special occasion treat.

Citrus in Your Stocking

The depression of the 1930s put a damper on expensive toys and games at Christmas time. Homemade treats (think molasses cookies, fruitcakes, and preserved goods) became the most anticipated gift of the season.

Fruits, such as citrus and bananas, were hard to come by in the northern and Midwestern states, so imagine the delight of finding an orange in your stocking from some exotic locale called “Florida.” In fact, many believe this trend helped promote the tourism boom in Florida, post trains, making their way down the Sunshine State’s coastline.

Jolly Ol’ St. Nick and Citrus

Digging deeper, there is more to the citrus in the stockings story than simply novelty. We all know the legend of St. Nick, the jovial fellow who left 3 golden balls to a poor man whose daughter’s wedding dowries he could not afford.

St. Nick glided down the chimney and the golden balls were left in the daughter’s stockings, which happened to be drying by the heat of the fire. We have all carried on this tradition with citrus taking the place of those orbs of gold.

Honoring the Tradition

The simple joy of receiving fresh fruit is luckily something that is still enjoyed to this day.

Consider sending a package of Florida’s pride, whether that is in the form of fresh fruit or delicious citrus sugar cookies (recipe below).

With everything being so very different this holiday season, now is an excellent time to ground yourself in traditions of the past and gift a treat that will both nourish the body and the soul.

Citrus Sugar Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

  • 3 cups + 2 Tbsp flour (or Gluten-Free Flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar (or sweetener of choice)
  • 3 grapefruit (We recommend Indian River White Marsh for a truly local treat)
  • 1 1/4 cup butter (or vegan alternative), slightly softened
  • 2 eggs (or vegan alternative)


  1. Preheat oven to 375 and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium-sized bowl.
  3. Zest the 3 grapefruit and add it to a bowl with the sugar.
  4. Using your fingers, work the zest into the sugar for a couple of minutes
  5. Remove 1/2 cup of the grapefruit sugar and place onto a shallow dish
  6. Add the butter to the remaining sugar and cream for 3-4 minutes until light and fluffy.
  7. Juice 1/2 of the grapefruit (1/3 cup juice). Put the juice into a small saucepan and reduce to 1 Tbsp of liquid.
  8. Remove from heat and add the grapefruit reduction to the butter mixture and mix.
  9. Add the two eggs or substitute until well blended.
  10. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  11. Scoop the dough into balls and drop into the reserved grapefruit sugar, rolling and tapping off any excess.
  12. Place 8-10 cookies on each lined baking sheet and refrigerate the dough balls for 15 minutes.
  13. Bake for 10 minutes until just brown on the edges.