Thursday, December 16, 2010

Satsuma Season!

Just as the northern California grape harvest is winding down, the first Satsuma mandarins begin to appear in my local markets and I quickly forget how much I miss those delicious autumn grapes. Satsumas (citrus unshiu Marcovitch) are an intensely flavorful healthy winter fruit, packed with vitamin C, A and other valuable nutrients. Small in size and seedless, Satsumas are easy to peel and section, making them a perfect portable snack to be eaten anywhere.

The first Satsumas were cultivated more than 700 years ago in southern Japan, and were later introduced to Wenzhou, China. In Japan and China, the fruit is still called "the honey citrus of Wenzhou". In the late 19th century, Satsuma trees were shipped from Satsuma Province on Kyushu Island to the United States, where by the early 1900's the tangerine industry took root in the lower Gulf States. Satsumas are the most cold resistant citrus crop; they are well suited to the climatic conditions of the Sacramento- San Joaquin Valley which is where the entire California Satsuma crop is grown.

When shopping for Satsumas, be careful to select fruit which is free of blemishes, as the somewhat fragile peel can be damaged during harvest and shipping. Good quality Satsumas will keep well for three weeks or more; store some in the fridge for longer periods and keep others at room temperature for daily consumption. The harvest usually begins in late November; by mid December Satsumas are plentiful and affordable, so now is the time to stock up on this fabulous "honey citrus", a delicious taste of ancient Japan!