Remember all those stories our parents told us about Christmas in the old days when maybe the only thing a kid would get in his stocking would be a tangerine? Remember how sad we felt for them? Seems kind of funny now. The reappearance of tangerines (we call them mandarins now) is one of my favorite things about the holidays.
Until fairly recently, mandarins were fairly scarce in California markets. Usually we called them tangerines — they were first imported into the U.S. from Tangiers, Morocco. Then came clementines, imported from Spain.
And when those caught on, along came the deluge as California growers jumped on the bandwagon. Now we can find Dekopons as big as a baseball (also called Sumos, fruit expert David Karp swears they are the world's best citrus) and kishus that are nut much bigger around than your thumb. And, of course, those fabulously sweet Ojai pixies, the size of a ping-pong ball.
Thank goodness the season lasts long enough to explore them all.
One important note, though — in my experience, few fruits more clearly reveal the effects of the area in which they were grown and the hand of the farmer who grew them than the mandarin. When you're trying to select the best fruit, you'll be better off following a favorite farmer than going for specific varieties.
It's hard to top a mandarin eaten right out of hand — they're like nature's candy, easily peeled and frequently seedless. But they do adapt well to desserts. Here are 11 recipes to get you started.
How to choose: Look for mandarins that are deeply colored and firm. If they are sold with the leaves attached, make sure the leaves are fresh and flexible.
How to store: Because their skins are so thin, mandarins are one citrus fruit that needs to be refrigerated, tightly sealed in a plastic bag.