Jeanne Davis owns a small orchard out in Fallbrook (formerly known as Coyote Growers) where she grows a variety of citrus trees. But none that garners the attention that her grove of 85 Seedless Kishu mandarin trees does. She started offering the small, walnut-sized fruit about four years ago, at first in small quantities. The past two years she's had sizable piles of the fruit, usually starting the last week of December. But they whittle down to nothing fast. The reason why becomes clear when overhearing her customers talk with her about the fruit, some even asking her if she'll sell them their own trees. We waited and watched as each successive customer bought the same thing — five in a row — one big bag full of the tiny but powerful fruit.
“I have strict instructions,” said one customer, politely waving off Davis' offer of a sample. “My husband told me if you had Kishus, I had to buy them. Period.”
Kishus are an old citrus — they have a Chinese ancestry that dates back to the 9th century — with a relatively new popularity. Kishus have often taken a backseat to the larger and more commercially-established Satsumas and are still scarce enough to warrant an eager excitement when they do come in season. You can find them from a few select growers at the Hollywood, Santa Monica, and Beverly Hills farmers markets through January.
The Seedless Kishu — there are a few seeded varieties out there — is the physical manifestation of the idea that bigger is not always better. The diminutive fruits are compact, with a snug zipper-skin and a thin, stringy pith that pulls away from the fruit flesh with ease. They're also explosively sweet, with a near perfect balance of tartness and aroma that a friend likened to “Willy Wonka sherbet.”
“It is very sweet,” agreed Davis. “And kids really love it, maybe due to its small size.”
Small enough to tuck a few into a pocket for a snack mid-day, assuming you aren't the skinny jeans type. Davis says she'll have the Kishus until the end of the month, though we've seen them as late as February. Don't wait that long though. Like with all citrus, end of season fruits swing to the dry side, losing most of their flavor and juicy texture.
If you're an out-of-towner, organic, Ojai Valley-grown Kishus are available for shipping from Churchill Orchard, a.k.a. The Tangerine Man. It's at a premium, but if you're not here, it's likely your only option.