Fresh fruit all year, thanks to winter Mandarins

THE SIERRA FOOTHILLS HAS AN ABUNDANCE of fresh, local fruit, thanks to our region’s largely temperate climate. Farm-to-fork restaurants (from Stella in Truckee to Ike’s in Nevada City) regularly feature local in-season fruits on their menus. The list includes heirloom melons, stone fruit and tomatoes (remember, it’s a fruit, not a veggie).

Pluots, the plum-apricot hybrid that is grown locally, is a favorite menu item of Molly Hawks of Hawks Restaurant in Granite Bay. Fresh, local fruit is offered in winter too, thanks to the Mountain Mandarin, a marquee crop in our region valued at $1.6 million last year.

The Mandarin is a true citrus experience: It has a sweet and tangy scent, is seedless, easy to peel and healthy. It is considered a “super-food,” high in vitaman C. Scientific studies also have show that the Mandarins grown in Placer County contain significant amounts of synephrine, a naturally occuring decongestant.

Each year, the Mandarin harvest begins in November and continues through January.

The dozens of orchards in Placer County—first planted in the 1880s by Welch Settlers—are spread throughout rural Auburn, Newcastle, Penryn, Loomis and Lincoln. Nearly 40 Mandarin growers in the county form the Mountain Mandarin Growers’ Association. During harvest season, you can visit their orchards, buy a bag of freshly picked Mandarins and meet the farmers (visit our website at SierraCulture.com to see an ORCHARD MAP for self-guided tours).

Newcastle Produce in Newcastle and the Blue Goose Produce in Loomis also are among our favorite places to buy Mandarins and Mandarin-flavored sauces, dressings and marinades.

MANDARIN FESTIVAL
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Mandarin Festival in Auburn. It is November 22-24, the weekend before Thanksgiving, at the Gold Country Fairgrounds.

Growers bring their familiar 10-lb. orange-mesh bags of the fruit. This year’s crop is expected to be plentiful.

The festival includes food booths with Mandarin-flavored drinks, salads, grilled meats, marinades and syrups. Cooking demonstrations feature man- darins as an ingredient. A Mandarin recipe contest attracts amateur cooks.

Quality hand-made crafted items also are for sale just in time for the holidays.

(Photo: Mountain Mandarins by Kurt Bertilson)

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