Back in Victorian times, when citrus fruits were expensive and hard to come by, parents often put oranges in their childrens’ Christmas stockings. The tradition continued in this country until our globalized food system made oranges so ubiquitous that they lost any cachet they once had as a gift.
But tangerines, clementines and satsumas are still a sweet winter treat. The fact that we now have the luxury of buying these small, highly fragrant members of the mandarin orange family by the crate during the holiday season doesn’t make them any less special. Think of these fruits as the ultimate all-natural convenience food, wrapped in an aromatic, biodegradable package that preserves them for weeks. They’re easy to peel and neat to eat, because their sections pull apart so effortlessly.
Satsumas are especially easy to peel, nearly always seedless, and prized for their delicate flavor. Grown for thousands of years in China and Japan, they arrived in the United States in the 18th century, when Jesuits planted a grove of satsumas in Louisiana.
By 1920, Jackson County, located in the Florida panhandle, had become the self proclaimed “Satsuma capital of the world“. The fruit grew so well in the American South that Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas all have towns named Satsuma, after the fruit. Sadly, most of the South’s satsuma groves were destroyed by a severe cold snap in the mid-1930′s.
Commercial Satsuma production has only just begun to enjoy a revival in the South, where it’s being touted as a hot “new” fruit for farmers to grow. With any luck, these delicious harbingers of the holidays will be grown in abundance in the US once again, but for now, the satsumas we get come primarily from Asia and Europe.
Regardless of their origins, a crate of satsumas isn’t likely to last long, given their supremely snacky appeal. But if you should happen to find a few lingering in the fruit bowl, you might try this satsuma salad with toasted pecans courtesy of Louisiana Cookin’. Or, if you’re more in the mood for dessert, take Nigella Lawson’s luscious clementine cake recipe and substitute satsumas. While you’re at it, save the peels; you can candy them, making a delightful garnish for cakes and cookies. Great taste and no waste!