Alan Tangren: You say tangerine, I say mandarin | TheUnion.com
Alan Tangren
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Alan Tangren: You say tangerine, I say mandarin

Dear Alan: Is there a difference between a tangerine and a mandarin orange? Aren't they both small, orange colored and easily peeled?

Forager Alan: You are right about the sometimes confusing names of these fruits. If you are a botanist looking up into the family tree, you would call them all mandarins. But if you are in the produce trade or an average shopper, you would call the varieties of mandarins with bright red-orange skin tangerines.

Mandarins originated in Southeast Asia and the neighboring East Indies, but the cultivation of this irresistible fruit has spread throughout all the tropical and subtropical parts of the world. The name tangerine originally referred to mandarins coming from Tangiers, Morocco.

All varieties of mandarins share several common traits. They tend to have loose, sometimes puffy skin that is very easy to peel, and the fruit segments inside are easily separated. Most varieties are very juicy and sweet.

Because of the abundance of varieties, mandarin season lasts for more than half the year; from early fall until late spring. Late September brings the first of the Satsumas, a name that actually refers to a large group of varieties that came from China to Japan hundreds of years ago.

Satsumas are the most popular citrus in Japan and make up 80 percent of citrus production there. I usually pass on the earliest Satsumas and wait for the better quality ones that come to market in November. Satsuma trees tolerate cold weather better than many other kinds of citrus, and we are fortunate to be very near two important growing areas. The area around Lincoln, Newcastle and Loomis is home to many mandarin orchards that welcome visitors during the harvest season. Local harvest usually starts in early November.

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Another favored source for organic mandarins is the Johansen Ranch, who grow Satsumas and other citrus near Orland, and distribute to local markets. Another group of varieties to look for later in the season are the particularly flavorful Clementines, originally from Algeria. They have smooth, bright red-orange skin and juicy, richly flavored flesh. Modern varieties are larger and have fewer seeds than some older ones.

You should also try Dancy, available by Christmas, and Page and Pixie toward the end of the season.

Tangelos are hybrids of mandarins and grapefruit. They are the size of an orange or larger, and have thin easily peeled skin that tapers to a distinct neck at the stem end. They have a bright red-orange skin and tender flesh that is deliciously sweet-tart. The juice makes a nice change from that of regular oranges. Minneola, my favorite variety, ripens from late winter to early spring

Any easily peeled, seedless mandarin can be used to make this refreshing dessert:

Sliced mandarins with lavender and honey

A half cup mild-flavored honey, such as orange blossom or clover

One teaspoon dried lavender

One pound Satsuma or other seedless mandarin

Warm the honey in a small saucepan over low heat. Crush the lavender and add it to the honey. Remove from heat and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes. Strain the honey before serving.

Peel the mandarins and use a sharp, thin-bladed knife to slice each across the segments, about ¼-inch thick, to make pinwheel shapes. If the segments fall apart, just reassemble them.

Arrange the slices on dessert plates and drizzle the honey over. Serve with plain sugar cookies.

Chef Alan Tangren teaches cooking classes and directs monthly Chef's Tables at Tess' Kitchen Store, 115 Mill St. in Grass Valley. Learn more at http://www.tesskitchenstore.com. Contact him at alan.tesskitchen@gmail.com.