The loose boys are back
December 10, 2021 9:08 AM   Subscribe

Need a reason for the season? If you live in certain parts of the northern hemisphere, try the annual return of the undisputed champion of citrus (dispute welcomed in comments). Maybe yours will come from Louisiana, where Jesuits first planted them in 1712—and where they are still revered by locals. Maybe you're lucky enough to be in California's fruitshed and can land a specimen from the legendary (and organic) Johansen Ranch, whose founder smuggled in his budwood in the 60s.

Wherever you can get them, eat them while you can because, like all good things, they are endangered by climate change effects: Hurricane Katrina destroyed half of all trees in Louisiana's top growing county, Isaac wiped out 75%, and citrus canker threatens the rest. When you fall in love with this seedless, easy-to-peel wonder (and you will), you can grow your own: buy a tree from the Becnel family who have been propagating satsumas for 160 years—a new variety tolerates chilly nights as low as 12ºF.
posted by rossmeissl (34 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
The bad habit I picked up during the pandemic was eating a huge number of clementines. I try to limit myself to 6 a day lest it get absurd, but console myself that there are worse bad habits.

I've never seen a satsuma mandarin in the shops here - unless they're what gets bagged up as "easy peelers"?
posted by stillnocturnal at 9:17 AM on December 10, 2021

@stillnocturnal: you can always tell a satsuma because if you pick one up, you can feel that the skin is literally loose — like, it's detached from the fruit. Often (but not always) there's a little nob on one end. The other true test is to eat one: if it blows your mind, you've found the right species.

The downside is you'll never be able to eat a clementine with as much joy again.
posted by rossmeissl at 9:20 AM on December 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

I am so here for this citrus discussion!

At the moment I am geeking out on finger limes that I managed to score and waiting on tarocco blood oranges from Sicily. That would probably be my nomination for citrus champion, though I think there's plenty of room on the pedestal.
posted by veggieboy at 9:40 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

IMO a fresh California navel IN SEASON (which is mostly January) is the Citrus King.
posted by Rash at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Of the satsumas, the best is the Dekopon, aka jeju hallabong (for our Korean friends), aka the Sumo Citrus (in the USA).

When I get them I always look for one that is heavy, has a prominent topknot-bump-thing, and has loose skin. The loose skin is key!
posted by Fortran at 9:43 AM on December 10, 2021 [5 favorites]

Looseyfruit are good but I'll eat a meyer lemon from my house tree any day. (Well any of the two dozen or so days there is one available.)
posted by joeyh at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2021

(Also, thank you for this post. It inspired me to finally — finally! — change my damn user name.)
posted by fruitslinger at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Great post! The number of fruits I've never heard of in more than forty years continues to astonish me.

For those also curious, the 3D plot in the first article with incomprehensible axes labels is from Curk et al's Next generation haplotyping to decipher nuclear genomic interspecific admixture in Citrusspecies: analysis of chromosome 2. I don't understand most of it, but it sure makes me want to try micrantha. And I've learned about three new fruits today.
posted by eotvos at 9:54 AM on December 10, 2021

@fruitslinger fka @veggieboy: a momentous occasion indeed!
posted by rossmeissl at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

I tried to grow an articfrost satsuma - and the 12F is a bit of a dodge -it can't handle that temp until it's nearly fully grown, and mine didn't take well to being draped. It died in year 4 (year one for me, it's was 3 when I bought it), when the temps spent 36 hours at about 15F. That's a pretty rare temp where I am though, so I just was unlucky. But they really do look, taste, and smell wonderful as a plant even if it's not producing, so if you're low temps are generally above 12F, you should try to grow one.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:12 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

And they generally aren't as picky as an orange or lemon tree, in terms of water and fertilizer outside their narrow official growing range.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:14 AM on December 10, 2021

my two year old has developed a need to yell "Sat-su-ma!" whenever she wants one. thanks for the links to the Becnel's.
posted by eustatic at 10:20 AM on December 10, 2021

Seconding the Sumo as the premier satsuma. I am as excited for their return to my local markets as I am for any holiday on the calendar!
posted by little mouth at 10:59 AM on December 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Sumos are great, but don't miss the owari
posted by rossmeissl at 11:10 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have seen satsumas exactly once so far this year. Clementines are not acceptable substitutes for me, and I dislike tangerines entirely. Since we moved away from California to Ohio I've had to accept a much narrower range of fruits from the grocery, based on what travels well and I guess what's not being killed by climate change and disease. (On the other hand, I never used to eat peaches, but they truly are better here than the California varieties.)

When I was a kid we called them christmas oranges, I guess because their season is so short. We bought them in boxes; each fruit was individually wrapped in green tissue. It was always a race to eat them all before they started going bad.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 11:27 AM on December 10, 2021

Whoa, this week’s “member celebration” offer at the local food co-op was a free pound of satsuma mandarins from Johansen Ranch. The weekly email had some interesting additional info about them, seems relevant to the links above!

They are quite delicious, though I will never forget the random tangerines I bought once from a market in Florence, Italy - definitely peak citrus taste memory for me.
posted by Maarika at 11:44 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I vote Valencia (Spain) oranges as the worst citrus and won't be taking any questions at this time.
posted by dobbs at 11:52 AM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm partial to the Minneola Tangelo myself. Also super easy to peel and seedless, super juicy as well and perhaps a bit more tart. So good.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:55 AM on December 10, 2021 [3 favorites]

The ones that are bagged or boxed are the ones I stay away from -- I want to pick my own so I can get the ones with the loosest skin. Easiest to peel as well as the least obnoxious pith. I was feeling up the satsumas once at the local tony grocery store and this older man was staring at me until he finally broke down and asked me what I was doing. "What are you looking for?" he said with an implied "you freak" behind it. I told him "you want the ones with the loosest skin" and after squinting at me for a bit, he did the same. Always wished I'd had a chance to run into him again and find out if he was satisfied.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:52 PM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

@kitten kaboodle I'm so happy to hear I'm not the only one who does this
posted by rossmeissl at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to remember the sticker-name for a winter honey-flavoured brand that I liked which is very similar to Sumo (unless I'm just mixed up).

I did find this swell list of citrus descriptions (with useful PLUs!) Their critic's list tops with Satsuma, of course.
posted by ovvl at 1:22 PM on December 10, 2021 [4 favorites]

We bought a case of satsumas from one of those Georgia Peach Truck operations last year, and they were miles ahead of any clementine. I just got an email a couple of days ago, though, saying they wom't be doing the truck this winter due to whatever excuse for shipping shortages we are using this week, so now I have the sad.
posted by briank at 1:23 PM on December 10, 2021

@ovvl thank you! How did I miss this for my post???
posted by rossmeissl at 1:33 PM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

I love satsumas but I sadly rarely see them here in my end of Canada. But when we do find them, I buy the lot and feast!
posted by Ashwagandha at 1:42 PM on December 10, 2021

We just got our first batch of locally grown satsumas of the year here in Atlanta. Literally the best citrus ever
posted by hydropsyche at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2021

These are mikan in Japan and are practically the national fruit. Everyone eats tons of them in the winter. The best thing is you can peel them with your hands, so they are very easy to eat. They're not as sweet as oranges, though, and can be a little sour. Just think a mild orange.
posted by zardoz at 5:59 PM on December 10, 2021

Sou, desu ka -- I remember mikan from Japanese class, but never realized the Satsuma equivalence until just now.
In winter (we) eat mikan
But in summer (we) drink barley tea.

posted by Rash at 6:58 PM on December 10, 2021

Satsumas are well and all and good ... though dare I say, maybe a bit common? I mean they are fine, but why not try a mandarinquat instead? You can eat the peel and the skin!

Or an adorable lil Kishu? Seriously is there anything cuter than a mini mandarin? It's like a tiny button of flavor.

Blood oranges, ok, sure, been there, but have you tried a pink fleshed orange?

As an aside, I visited the Cuties factory once. It's not a single variety of citrus, but rather a blend of different varieties that can be grown year round and sold under the same brand. And don't even get me started on what they spray on the fruit in those well marketed boxes ...
posted by birdsongster at 7:11 PM on December 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

t e a m s u m o
posted by boomdelala at 7:49 PM on December 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Satsumas are well and all and good ... though dare I say, maybe a bit common?

They don't reliably show up in the stores in my area! Let's work on universal satsuma access for all before we proceed to a greater citrus utopia.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:08 AM on December 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Satsumas? Satsumii?
My personal fave, which once necessitated me writing it out after a "bartleby, why do you say it weird like that!?": Satsumæ.
posted by bartleby at 1:59 AM on December 12, 2021

Satsumas are what I grew up with as the default small orangey thing, in England in the 1980s. Fruit of choice for packed lunches, Christmas stockings etc. Sometimes, excitingly, they came wrapped in colourful tissue paper!

Over the years, clementines and nadorcotts and non-specific "easy peelers" have largely taken over in the supermarkets, much to my dismay; and even when I do manage to get a bag of satsumas, they're usually disappointing. The key thing about a satsuma was that it was *sharp*. Tart and delicious, the citrus equivalent of a redcurrant. Now, more often they're sweet and bland. I don't know what happened, but it's not that my tastebuds have changed, because every once in a while I hit the jackpot and find a good one.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:44 AM on December 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Here in the S.F. Bay Area, we are lucky to be in the shipping range for the previously-mentioned Sumo oranges, as well as Owari mandarins from Snow's Citrus.

Agriculture is not quite extinct in Silicon Valley; c.f. Cosentino's Orchard.
posted by JDC8 at 12:07 PM on December 13, 2021

MY PEOPLE!!! Satsumas are so much better than clementines, and I so rarely find people who agree with me. Very envious of all of you up-thread who are casually talking about picking citrus from their own trees - not something we can do in the UK!
posted by altolinguistic at 11:56 AM on December 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

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