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Satsuma Mandarins: A winter delight

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People who eat seasonally often extol the abundance of summer as the epitome of the fruit and vegetable season. Sure, summer has it's stars: tomatoes, berries, peaches, summer squash. But when it comes down to it, there are some gems of the other seasons that I wouldn't give up for the world.

In the past couple of weeks, one of my biggest addictions of the year came into season: Satsuma mandarins.

Mandarins can be found all over the city -- you can find organic and local mandarins at farmers' markets around town, and less local but cheaper mandarins at Chinese groceries throughout the city. Satsumas come into the market yearly around Thanksgiving and their peak season lasts around five weeks.

At the peak of the season, Satsuma mandarins are easy to peel and segment, each piece bursting with a sweet full-flavored juice balanced with just the right amount of acid to create a delicious snack - I often eat several in one sitting, and about five pounds a week when they are in season.


We are near some great mandarin-growing areas. Like other citrus, mandarins need hot days to grow. But the hot days and cool nights of the Capay Valley and parts of the Central Valley help mandarins develop a full flavor. California is not the primary producer of Satsumas, however. The largest Satsuma industry is in Southern Japan, where Satsumas make up about 75% of all citrus production in the country.

Satsumas have been available in Japan and China for over 700 years, but the first trees were planted in the United States in the 19th century when the wife of the U.S. minister to Japan shipped home orange trees from the Satsuma province, and the Satsuma varietal of the mandarin was born, or so the story goes.

Satsuma mandarins are part of a larger group of mandarins which include Clementine, Tangelo, Tangerine, and Royal mandarins.

Satsumas and mandarins in general have several symbolic meanings in Chinese, which is why you often see them around the Chinese New Year. When leaves and stems are still attached, satsumas symbolize family and friends who will not separate, and a newly married woman is given two mandarins by her new in-laws, which are to be peeled on her wedding night and shared with her husband, symbolizing a happy and full life together. Along with other citrus trees, a mandarin tree placed in the front of the home and full of fruit symbolizes the ripening of good fortune.

Photo credit: flourphoto

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