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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Satsumas, the sweetest citrus

By
December 7, 2010 |

Enterprise columnist

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Our region has two specialty citrus crops that are the envy of others — Satsuma mandarins and Meyer lemons. The climate just happens to be right, and they\’ve both been established here for decades.

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For some who don\’t live here any longer, Satsumas are a taste from home and a reminder of the holiday season.

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Just the other day Diane included half a dozen Satsumas in a package she mailed to our daughter on the East Coast. When we visited our son in Los Angeles over Thanksgiving, we brought him five pounds, an amount that lasts about a week in our household.

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The Satsuma season is in full swing. If you never really got into it before, now\’s the time. They\’re cheap and great for kids, who\’ll be drawn to the reliable sugary taste. As for you, the adult, it\’s easy to eat half a dozen or more per day as I do.

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Satsumas are fairly small, with a leathery skin that\’s very easy to peel — a big attraction! It\’s also seedless, a second big attraction. Now you see why it should be promoted to children. And once a frost or two has hit the region, which has already occurred, the juices in the Satsuma mandarins turn sweet.

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A Satsuma can mature before it gets full orange color, so don\’t be put off if you see hints of green. I bought a five-pound bag on Nov. 14, a bit early in the season to expect a mature, sweet taste. The Satsumas didn\’t look all that good either, with specks of weathering and swatches of green. But I\’d tasted one from the grower who was selling them, and sure enough, they were delicious.

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“Cold will bring up the sweetness,” explains Patricia Doering, who with her husband George, grows Satsumas on 11 acres near Oroville. “Rain will take the sweetness back down.” Her fruit finds its way to Davis. I\’ve seen Satsumas as cheap as $1.19 per pound from a local organic farm.

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Once you get them home, it\’s important to store them correctly. Satsumas don\’t like to be in the refrigerator, where they get dry and leathery according to Patricia, nor do they want to be on the kitchen counter for an extended period. It\’s best to put them in your garage, on your deck, or in your carport — somewhere out of the way but in the outside chill. They can last a week or two in that circumstance, preferably laid out and not touching each other. We usually keep a handful on a platter in the kitchen, because we like to eat them at room temperature, and those inside are consumed the same day.

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A century ago, about a million Satsuma mandarin trees were planted around the U.S. The name derives from a region in Japan. But if we gave a pop quiz right now, chances are you\’d struggle if asked to describe the following: Satsumas, tangerines, Cuties, mandarins, Clementines and oranges. Since all of this produce will be available in Davis over the winter, let\’s do some homespun education.

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Imagine all of these on your kitchen countertop. I\’d construct just such a photo to appear here as an educational aid, but some of these aren\’t in season, so we\’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Picture it in your mind.

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– First of all, the orange. Move that aside. It doesn\’t belong in the discussion. It\’s something else. With that clear, we can move on …

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– Satsumas are a type of mandarin, with leathery skin, seedless.

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– Clementines are another type of mandarin, often with seeds, and the skin is slicker, even waxy to the eye. It doesn\’t peel so readily.

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Remember, both are mandarins.

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– The third item is the so-called Cutie, which looks like a small version of the Clementine next to it in our mental construct. In fact, that\’s what it is, a small Clementine. It\’s just a branding effort by the industry to sell them more readily. Cuties will appear later in the winter.

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Got it? Satsumas are mandarins, Clementines are mandarins, and Cuties are mandarins. But what about tangerines?

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– Actually there\’s no one fruit in our display called a tangerine. The mandarins are tangerines, you see, and tangerines are mandarins. Same thing, just a different word.

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While the original use of “tangerine” dates to a tree in the orchard of one N.H. Moragne, who obtained it from Tangiers, Morocco, as early as 1843, the researchers at UC Riverside — seat of all research on mandarins — explain that “mandarin” and “tangerine” are used interchangeably these days.

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It also deserves mention that Clementine growers hate beekeepers, unless they\’re far away. Clementines pollinated by bees tend to have seeds. No bees, no seeds. There\’s a big lawsuit as California Clementine growers seek a restraining order to keep hives from being placed on adjoining properties.

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We have a thriving Meyer lemon tree in our yard, and if I had the space, I\’d plant a Satsuma mandarin. They\’re not hard to grow. If you have space, I recommend it highly. It\’s forty bucks or less for a five-gallon tree. They\’re sold at nurseries during the winter; best to keep it in the pot, cared for, until spring planting. Is it a potential Christmas present to someone you know?

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Don Shor, owner of Redwood Barn Nursery here in Davis, is something of an authority on all things mandarin, in part because he grows mandarins at home, and in part because he\’s the type of guy who makes it a point to know stuff he can recite. Me, I have to go look things up because I remember nothing.

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Don notes that the best variety of Satsuma for home planting is the Owari, which is also the best-known. The Satsuma is more of a bush than a tree. It\’s slow-growing, and will take several years to begin having fruit. There\’s no need to prune them, a big plus. They like to be fertilized. Try planting one.

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Did I hear you ask, “Do I have a suitable spot in my yard?”

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Satsumas like a warm, sunny location. Don has an adage for that: “Where the cat sleeps, citrus grows well.”

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There are a lot of simple recipes one can pursue with mandarins of any kind. For that I direct you to http://www.mountainmandarins.com, the growers\’ association in the nearby Sierra foothills. They have a long list of recipes. But in my view, nothing compares to eating them out of your hand.

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— Dan Kennedy, a Davis resident, has a long history with the bounty of gardens and small farms. Reach him at kennedynow@yahoo.com

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