Saturday, January 21, 2006

Fruit: Mandarin: Satsuma

I've been meaning to post on satsuma's (Citrus reticulata) for a while now. The "first tangerine of the season" arrived at the Grand Lake Farmers' Market before the holidays. But this year there's a lot going on in the world of satsumas. Apaprently the area around New Orleans is a major supplier of the fruit, and the trees in that region were hit hard by Hurrricane Katrina. I would be remiss to write about the fruit and not this event, and doing so would seemingly require mention of the efforts of the Slow Food people to help rescue samples of these fruits.

Despite what you might think, I'm skeptical of the Slow Foods movement for reasons that are at once political and deeply engrained psychologically(1). These feelings become further complicated when folks that might otherwise be helping individuals who were effected by the hurricane wax urgently and poetically about saving fruit trees. I say these things while absolutely accepting that this may all be for the good of actual satsuma farmers on the ground in and around New Orleans.

This sort of deliberation is one of the things I've been trying to keep to a minimum here, and not seeing any way around it has prevented me from describing this easily peeled and segmented fruit for weeks. Here's the historical skinny, cribbed more or less directly from the Slow Foods site:
The name "Satsuma" is credited to the wife of a U.S. Minister to Japan, General Van Valkenburg, who sent trees home in 1878 from Satsuma, the name of a former province, now Kagoshima Prefecture, on the southern tip of Kyushu Island. During the period 1908-1911, approximately a million "Owari" Satsuma trees were imported from Japan and planted throughout the lower Gulf Coast states from Florida to Texas.
I'm reasonably sure that the fruits in the first photo are from California's own San Joaquin Valley, by way of The Twin Girls Farms. Week in and week out, their satsumas have been the best available at the market. Brightly tart, pleasantly sweet, and rich in sheer citrus taste. They are also pleasingly pocked and blemished, slightly loose at the base of the neck, and about as ugly as they come. Regular readers will no doubt have established some time ago that I have a thing for blemished fruit.

(1) I have some kind of psychological blind spot with regards to the word "slow". Its connotations of sub par intelligence and a lack of speed constitute a 1-2 punch directed at my perception of myself as both learned and quick. Any analyst could tell you that this clearly also has something to with a rare genetic condition that afflicts my sister and has left her subject to unkind characterization as slow.

These issues are so front and center for me that I'd heard the phrase "Slow Food" several times before it even occurred to me that the phrase was a play on "Fast Food". From an entirely me-centric view of their movement, the only way these guys could have got it more wrong would be to have called it "Sloe Food". Sloe seeming to me like some perverse mutation of an already challenged descriptor.

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