The Sweetest Season: Mountain Mandarins

As fall arrives, Placer County’s hills are aglow with ripening Mountain Mandarins. More than 40 Mandarin growers are nestled in the hills around Penryn, Newcastle, Loomis, Lincoln and Auburn. They have been providing tree-ripened, hand-picked Mandarins since the 1880s.

“Mandarins are the signature fruit of the foothills,” observes Cindy Fake of the UC Cooperative Extension for Placer and Nevada counties. “Warm days and cool nights during the growing season provide near-perfect conditions for production of high-quality flavorful fruit.

“Research has also revealed that Mandarins contain significant amounts of synephrine, a natural antihistamine that can alleviate the symptoms of colds and allergies, so Mandarins are also health foods.”

The healthy, easy-to-peel fruit is a valuable crop. Last year’s orange and Mandarin crop in Placer County was about 638 tons and valued at $1.6 million, more than the $1 million value for the County’s wine crop, according to the County’s annual crop report.
Locals and visitors get to taste the first fruit of the season at the Mountain Mandarin Festival each November. This year the 24th annual Festival is November 17-19 at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn, surrounded by fall colors.

Festival-goers stock up on 5 and 10 pound bags of fresh Mandarins, and enjoy free samples. Attendees also can taste dozens of Mandarin-infused products, including salad dressing, fruit spread, olive oils, grill sauces and dessert toppings. Other specialties range from chocolate-covered fresh Mandarins to Mandarin pizza.

The Festival also features a Mandarin recipe cooking contest, professional chef demonstrations, food, artisan crafts for holiday gifts, a “peel and eat” contest, live music and entertainment.

The Placer County Mandarin season continues with Mountain Mandarin Orchard Days, a free two-weekend event December 2-3 and 16-17, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Dozens of Mandarin farms belonging to the Mountain Mandarin Growers Association open their doors for orchard tours, sampling of Mandarin-flavored products, local wine and ale tasting, children’s activities, and “you pick ’em” Mandarins. A family friendly 5K walk along part of Penryn’s Mandarin Trail is held December 3.

Mandarin season lasts through the winter months. The Mandarins also are available at local farmers markets and some grocery stores. Most growers ship their Mandarins, so locals can share them with family and friends across the country.

For tickets or more information, visit MandarinFestival.com.

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