Some Very Special Mandarins
By Dr. Bob Randall
Except for our coldest areas--those north of Harris County or
both west of Harris and north of I-10--hundreds of citrus tree
varieties are potentially great additions to our landscapes.
They will provide beautiful evergreens that shade house walls in
summer, help shut out the roadway’s din, while dramatically
improving breakfast, lunch, dinner or garden breaks. They are
carefree, very productive, reliable, long-lived and attract
butterflies and nesting birds. I eat fresh yard citrus from
September to June. Here I want to talk about a few of my
favorites: satsumas, pong koas, and calamondins.
Satsumas are a hardy type of mandarin, which is to say they are
tangerines. They all have an easily peeled slip skin, a few
seeds, and depending on their ripeness, are either tart-sweet or
fully sweet. Mandarins are some of the hardiest members of the
Citrus genus and need a winter cooling period. However, if you
don’t pick them at this stage, they will quickly become bland
and then mushy, so it is best to refrigerate as much as you can
and donate, give away or sell the rest. Different varieties
ripen from August (with orange green skins) to December (with
orange), so with good selection and refrigeration, you can eat
them for 6 months.
Most mature satsumas will produce 100-300 fruit per tree, so
there is a lot to eat and share. One wonderful way to consume a
lot of satsumas is to juice them with a cheap electric citrus
juicer. The result is one of life’s great joys and health
foods—deep orange, delicious pulpy tangerine juice that makes
the store stuff seem to be fake.
The pong koa is a different type of mandarin. Like the satsuma,
it is easily peeled, but the flesh is very firm and crisp. The
satsuma is a short, squat tree up to 12 ft. tall and wide, while
pong koas are tall skinny trees up to 15 ft. with just 6 ft.
diameters. At its worst, perhaps 25 percent of the pong koa’s
fruit are so firm that they lack juice and must be composted.
When you couple this with the fact that they bear heavily only
in alternate years, you can see why they are unknown in the
market trade. However, the rest of the fruit have a heavenly
aroma and flavor making them highly addictive. At their best,
they are some of the best fruit I have ever tasted. In alternate
years, there is a large supply that beats any satsuma for fresh
eating. I always reach for them first.
The calamondin is a different type of mandarin. The fruit is
about the size of a pecan and borne in great abundance every
year, nearly year round, on an 18 ft. tree perhaps 6 ft. in
diameter. The skins are brilliant orange, and inside there is a
deep orange flesh deliciously sour. The aroma of the flesh is
Lemons and limes are much better known in Texas for sour
flavoring in ice tea, margaritas, pies, and much more. But in
East Asia and much of the tropics, the calamondin is king,
showing up in Philippine calamansi “lemonade” and as limun
flavoring in Brazilian drinks. They are also common dooryard
fruits in south Florida.
I grow Meyer lemons, and they are rightly thought to be the
gourmet world’s best lemon. But frankly, when it comes to sour
flavoring, I much prefer calamondins. First, they are very juicy
and soft so they can very easily be squeezed on to or into
something with two fingers. What I do typically is cut 1-2
calamondins in half or quarters, and then I squeeze the juice
into the drink and usually toss the fruit in too. At certain
times in the year, there are far more than we can eat. Then we
just put a few dozen in a freezer bag. Come summer, when the
calamondin crop is sparse, out of the bag comes the little
frozen fruit. They are then sliced in halves or quarters and
tossed in the drink as ice cubes.
It is hard to convey even in these few words the richness to
life some well-chosen citrus can bring. You can purchase many
varieties of citrus and more at the upcoming Urban Harvest Fruit
Tree Sale, January 14th at University of Houston, Robertson
Stadium. More details at
Urban Harvest Fruit Tree Sale.
Bob Randall, Ph.D. is Executive Director of Urban Harvest and is
author of Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for
Metro-Houston. Contact him at
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