PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 12:00am

Because I grew up in California, I find it hard to believe that in some places, oranges, tangerines and other orange-coloured citrus fruits are a Christmas treat. When reading a classic children's story, I was surprised at the mention of a girl who was excited to find an orange in the toe of her Christmas stocking. For me, oranges were available year-round, growing in the yards of neighbours, family and friends. Oranges and other citrus fruit are grown in warm-weather areas across the world - in the United States (in California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Hawaii), Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Italy, and in parts of Africa and Asia.

There are many varieties - the sweet, hard-to-peel oranges good for juice and eating; bitter oranges that have little juice and are mostly made into marmalade and liqueurs such as Cointreau and Grand Marnier; blood oranges; and the small, easy-to-peel types such as satsumas, clementines and tangerines.

Not all oranges have orange skin. The best orange juice I've ever tasted was in Thailand, made from oranges that are sometimes orange but more often mottled green. The contrast between the ugly green skin and the bright, orange-coloured flesh is surprising and the taste is intense.. Blood oranges have ruby-coloured skin and flesh and make a lovely sorbet.

While most oranges are eaten raw (except for the bitter variety), they are also used in many cooked dishes, especially desserts and cakes. Add a double-dose of orange flavour to pound cake by mixing finely-grated orange zest into the batter, and after the cake is baked, cover with a glaze made by whisking fresh orange juice into icing sugar until it's a thin, runny consistency. When the cake is hot from the oven, use a skewer to poke deep holes in the cake all the way to the bottom of the pan and then pour the glaze over. Glaze again when the cake is cold.

To make orange curd, substitute freshly squeezed orange juice for lemon juice in a recipe for lemon curd. Reduce the sugar by at least half (you can always add more later) and cook with the egg yolks as the recipe directs.

Oranges are also good in savoury preparations. For a delicious marinade for pork roast, mix freshly squeezed orange juice with chopped garlic, fresh coriander, salt and pepper. Massage into the meat and marinate for at least eight hours. Cook the meat and serve with a sauce of freshly squeezed lime juice, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chopped fresh coriander and seasonings.

The skin of oranges has a more concentrated flavour than the juicy flesh. Dried tangerine skin is added to congee and Chinese soups. Orange zest - taken only from the coloured part of the skin, not the bitter, spongy pith underneath - is a fabulous addition to vinaigrettes, cakes and sweet tart doughs.