For years, SFoodie has found it impossible to visit the Alemany Farmers' Market without gawking at Rosa de Santis's citrus stand. Her cara caras and oro blanco grapefruit are positively mundane -- there are boxes of sweet limes and nobbly Seville oranges to paw through and smell, and up on the cash register table De Santis keeps even rarer fruits like Buddha's hand citrons and calamansi limes. We've brought home fresh bergamots to zest into a fruit crisp, and pink limes to make into a cooler. This may be the best place in the city to hit up for cocktail experimentation.
De Santis, who moved to California with her family from Italy decades ago -- somewhere between Rome and Naples, she says -- has been selling citrus at San Francisco farmers' markets for 30 years; she's at both the Alemany and Civic Center markets. The De Santises didn't set out to grow Filipino limes or or strangely shaped Chinese citrons. They just wanted to grow blood oranges, like the kind they ate back in Italy. "Where we come from, that 's the only orange we know," she says. "But over here, when we started selling it, people would get upset. 'What'd you put in my orange?' they'd ask. We had to do a lot of education. Now they love it."
Now the De Santis family owns 25 acres of orchards near Fresno, and a partner owns another 15. Between the two properties, De Santis says they grow 90 different kinds of citrus fruits. And she continues to experiment with new varieties, checking the catalogs of USDA-approved citrus varieties every year to find new varieties the agency has approved for sale in the United States.
Last week, SFoodie picked up blood limes -- sharper and smaller than blood oranges, but with that same raspberry-tinged flavor -- and we're still kicking ourself for not buying the fresh yuzu we spotted on the table a few weeks before that. Too late: The yuzu is already gone for the year, De Santis says. She only planted the trees recently, and so they don't bear a huge crop. "But the flavor is lovely," she says. "Everything you make with it tastes good!" Agreed.