Bright orange tangerines, as festive as Christmas ornaments, are ripening just in time to add a colorful touch to holiday fruit platters.
Varieties such as the Satsuma, Dancy, Kara, and Kinnow tangerines are all expected to be plentiful in North County this year. The sweet and seedless Satsuma, generally the first one to reach market, is available for only a few weeks, while other varieties are expected to last through February.
Oliver Atkins of Atkins Nursery in Fallbrook is a world-renowned nurseryman who has been in the citrus business since the 1930s. Addressing a recent meeting of the California Rare Fruit Growers Assn., Atkins elaborated on the various kinds of tangerines now being produced in the North County.
The sweet and seedless Satsuma is so highly prized in Japan that it is often sold stuffed in colorful stockings for gift-giving, according to Atkins. Although a favorite of local consumers, the Satsuma does not ship well and so has never gone over big elsewhere in California. Supermarkets rely on hardier varieties such as the Algerian tangerine, which Atkins qualifies as a "good, all-around tangerine," or the Kara mandarin, which makes a later appearance on the market. The Kinnow, tight-skinned and sweet, will last well into summer, he said. As for the Dancy, "the old-timer has been around forever."
"My father planted the first mandarin (or tangerine) trees here in 1955," explains Vic Pankey of Pankey Farms in Bonsall, "and ours is one of the oldest groves in North County."
His 12 acres of Satsuma trees make him the largest commercial grower in the county. "The Satsuma, originally from China, differs from other tangerines in that it is seedless, and very easy to peel," he says. "Strictly speaking, it's a mandarin orange. But to avoid confusion, we call them like our customers call them, tangerines."
Pankey sells his tangerines to the public exclusively through his farm stand, or via UPS.
Cal-Flavor, another commercial grower, deals mainly in Lee mandarins. "It's excellent and sweet. You can eat it like candy, it has so few seeds," declares Greg Thatcher, packing house manager and head of sales for the company. Cal-Flavor also grows the Satsuma at ranches throughout Valley Center. Because of shipping problems, Cal-Flavor sells the Satsuma mainly to local stores and farm stands.
Margie Oakes of Oakes' Knoll Ranch in Fallbrook, can barely keep up with the demand for the seedless Satsuma. "My market customers start asking me as early as October when the tangerines are going to be ready," she said. "Our trees are loaded this season. The Satsuma should be available until Christmas, but everything we grow depends on the weather."
The small, candy-tasting fruit is a favorite, especially among children.
"People prefer seedless varieties of tangerines. They're ideal for children's lunches. My grandbabies just pick them off the tree and eat them as fast as they can pick them," she said. Oakes also grows Dancy tangerines, which should come into season toward the beginning of January. "Their taste is a little bit stronger than the Satsuma," says the Newport Beach native.
The Satsuma is also the tangerine of choice for Joseph Bernard of Bernard Ranch, who has lived in Escondido for more than 35 of his 70 years as a farmer. Bernard still devotes most of his time to his 18 acres of fruit trees, many of them Satsuma tangerines.
He is also experimenting with other varieties of tangerines to see how the public will take to them. These days, Bernard leaves the marketing to his sons and to other local sellers such as Marty Warren, who sells Bernard's tangerines, as well as his own fruit, at the Escondido, Vista, and Del Mar farmers' markets.
Dick Souther, another market vendor and Satsuma grower, said that when he found out how popular the Satsuma was, he put in more trees. "The fruit isn't ready until it attains a dark, orange color," he said. "If it's too pale, the sugar isn't up."
When buying tangerines, look for a deep orange color, and discard any that feel "mushy" to the touch. Beware of blotches of color on the skin. Tangerines, mandarins, and clementines are best when eaten out of hand, and add a wonderful flavor to fresh fruit salads. The Satsuma is ideal for preserves or canning. All citrus is a good source of Vitamin C and fiber.
WHERE TO GET FRESH TANGERINES
Atkins Nursery, 3129 Reche Road, Fallbrook 92028; 728-1610. Grow and sell tangerine rootstock.
Pankey Farms, 4881 Highway 76, Bonsall 92003; 728-1643. Fruit stand located at Highway 76 off-ramp off Interstate 15. Satsuma tangerines cost 85 cents a pound, or 6 pounds for $5. Gift-packs of select fruit for the holidays cost from $15 to $48.
Cal-Flavor, growers and shippers, 440 North Andreasen Drive, Escondido 92029; 741-2656. Sells in quantities only, 40 pounds minimum. Price depends on availability.
Margie Oakes, Oakes' Knoll Ranch, P.O. Box 252, Fallbrook 92028; 728-9158. Call for availability. Will pick to order. Satsuma and Dancy tangerines will cost about 60 cents to 70 cents a pound, depending on average market price.
Marty Warren, 18989 Starvation Mountain Road, Escondido 92025; 789-5845. Two-pound bag costs about $1 at farmer's markets, depending on availability.
Dick and Suzie Souther, 2240 Elevado Road, Vista 92084; 758-7151. Will pick on request with a day's notice. Price depends on availability.