December trees in California come ready equipped with their own holiday decor. We're talking citrus -- and of particular note right now is the Satsuma tangerine, so popular that local orchards sell it at the markets in 25 pound crates. Keep the wine for yourself and bring a box of these easy-to-peel fruits to your next party or to ring in the new year. Their season started a few weeks ago, but like with any first-of-the-season crop, they hadn't quite achieved their famed honey sweetness. Starting this week, they are hitting their sweet prime. We'll have Satsumas well into spring, but from here through January is when they are truly best.
Satsumas, as their name suggests, are an Asian import, and have adapted spectacularly to our climate here. Though they started off in the late 1800s in Florida, most of the country's Satsumas are grown here. A member of a family of citrus called reticulae, for the reticulated pith that makes peeling easy even for a four-year-old, the Satusuma is so easy to store, prepare, and eat (the flesh is super tender and seedless during this part of the season) that it's probably the biggest no-brainer purchase at the market. The only issue is carting the box back to you car.
Regier Family Farms is one of the biggest Satsuma growers currently at the markets and sells the aforementioned 25 pound crate for $35. If you prefer to purchase yours in small batches, choose for fruit where the skin is a bright orange and has just started pulling away from the fruit. If you prefer a tarter tangerine, select for fruits where the skin is still tightly hugging the fruit and with a little touch of green in the coloring. Avoid torn peels (most are harvested by clipping the stems to avoid tearing the peel at the top) and mushy spots.
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With the fruit so sweet and the flesh so tender, it's difficult to employ the Satsuma for anything but fresh eating. That said, it makes a terrific preserve and cooks down into a beautiful glaze for pork, chicken, and fish. Juice it for dressings. Peel it carefully for an artful addition to your holiday plating. Leave it whole with leaves attached for an edible holiday arrangement.