Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mandarin Mania

This could be old hat, and I'm imagining the food loving public rolling their eyes at how hopelessly far behind the culinary times I am. But for those of you who don't get out that much, or live far away from citrus trees and swimming pools, allow me to introduce my new favorite fruit: the Kishu mandarin.

This darling little citrus, about the size of a large walnut, has an unparalleled sweetness, no seeds and the benefit of being so darn cute that, when faced with a big bowl of them, you discover that you have eaten ten or so without giving it a second thought. For those of you who have always wondered about the difference between a mandarin and a tangerine, Jim Churchill of Churchill Orchards in Ojai, California, has finally set the record straight: there is no difference. Mandarins are called Mandarins because they were said to have originated in Asia, Tangerines were a direct import from Tangiers, in North Africa. As it turns out, both stories are true: the citrus are native to Asia but made their way to North America via North Africa. Everybody wins.

Though it's hard to imagine life before those big crates of clementines from Spain crowded the market at Christmas time, I'm here to report that growing up in Vermont we didn't see those crates until at least the mid-90's. Before that, my knowledge of mandarins, clementines and other small seedless citrus was limited to the supremes of mandarin orange that came swathed in heavy syrup in a small can (which, of course, we kids loved).

Now, as is the case with most everything, citrus has gone boutique upscale. The aforementioned Churchill Orchards was shipping out crate loads of Kishus until last week, when the supplies dwindled (except for a few crates they reserve for restaurants, like Chez Panisse, who serve the Kishus nudi--whole, in a copper bowl, accompanied by some local dates), but the season is just beginning for their Pixie and Page varieties, and you can find more information about their harvest at (the above kishu photograph was taken directly from the Churchill Orchards website, and credit must be due. Look, so tiny!)

No comments: