Harvest of the Month: Mandarins

Printby Amanda Thibodeau

Doesn’t citrus seem like a winter miracle?  Seriously.  In this time of diminished light, frozen ground and frankly not a lot of local produce, fruits such as lemons, mandarins, and oranges bring vitamin C and bright flavors to our palettes.

Have you had a chance to check out some of the seasonal varieties that are available now?  Tart grapefruits, dark and mysterious blood oranges, perfect pink cara caras, classic navels, juicy tangelos, fragrant meyer lemons…the list goes on.

Not to mention the late season mandarins that are so sweet you’ll question how this flavor came from a tree- and not just any tree- one that has fruit in the dead of winter.   Nothing short of miraculous, but really isn’t that the case with all produce?

Citrus is something to be celebrated, and this is why 6,000 local students tasted mandarins this month as part of Sierra Harvest’s third year of its Harvest of the Month program.   The mandarins were a variety called Satsuma Owari from Sunset Ridge Farm in Newcastle, CA.  Mandarin season begins in late November and is beginning to wind down.

Because students tasted these fruits at the end of their season, the mandarins were at their absolute sweetest- but looking a little different than “normal.”

Think about all the crazy weather that we’ve been having since November- these little fruits have endured through some serious rain and cold, which they responded to just like we would- by huddling up inside their blankets.  The “blankets” (or peels as most people call them) were soft and loose, making for an extremely easy to peel fruit- but not one that would be commonly found in the store.  As one might imagine, fruits like this don’t travel especially well- but the taste is well worth it, as the students will tell you!


It’s common knowledge at this point that citrus fruits are an excellent source of Vitamin C, which is a water soluble vitamin and antioxidant that helps to keep our immune system running smoothly and is necessary for growth and development.  But did you know that Vitamin C is found only in plants?  The body does not make or store vitamin C, so it is important to eat foods with vitamin C every day.

Citrus fruits, like mandarins, are sources of flavonoids (or bioflavonoids), known for their antioxidant properties and ability to increase levels of vitamin C within the body’s cells, positively affect blood flow, and exhibit anti-allergy and anti-inflammatory effects.  Vitamin C also helps the body heal cuts and wounds and helps lower the risk of infection and helps the body absorb the iron found in foods.

With all the benefits of the Vitamin C in citrus, it’s an easy and delicious way to stay healthy this winter season.  If you want to try out more local fruits, check out Mountain Bounty Farm’s winter fruit CSA, where you can get seasonal fruit such as apples, kiwis and (of course) seasonal citrus.  The winter fruit share runs through the end of March, so there’s still time to sign up!  For more info, visit mountainbountyfarm.com

Consider integrating citrus into your diet and home in ways beyond just eating the fruit and drinking the juice.  Keep the peels!  As long as you are purchasing citrus grown without the use of pesticides, the peels have so much to offer!  In fact, there’s a lot of nutrition and antioxidant power in the skin so nibbling on it is a great idea.  There have been preliminary studies linking consumption of citrus peels to lowered cancer risk, diabetes prevention and reduction of cholesterol.  So go on, zest that lemon!  Lemon and orange zests are flavorful and nutritious additions to spice blends or sugars, and can also be used to add kick and flavor to savory dishes such as salad dressings or atop fish or other protein sources.

Many health experts swear by drinking a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning as a detoxifying daily ritual.

Dried orange peels make an excellent tea, or try simmering them on the stove with some cinnamon to make your home smell amazing.  Want to make your own non-toxic cleaner?  Soak some citrus peels in white vinegar for 2 weeks or so and you’ve got a great antimicrobial solution that smells good too!  Another tip for those who want to quickly clean a microwave- put citrus peels in a bowl of water and microwave on high for 5 minutes.  Then, carefully remove the bowl and wipe out the microwave.

So there you have it!  Citrus may be available year round but now is the time when it’s at its best.  Whether you’re cleaning your house, baking something amazing, adding flair to a salad or just peeling an eating an orange for a snack- now is the time to get busy enjoying winter’s bounty.

Here’s a recipe from Tom Hudgen’s The Commonsense Kitchen, it is a fantastic winter salad that’s simple to prepare and even easier to eat.

Fennel, Blood Orange and Toasted Almond Salad

½ C whole almonds, toasted

3 T extra virgin olive oil

½ lemon

1 fennel bulb

2-3 blood oranges

Chop almonds coarsely, toss with olive oil.  Shave fennel thinly (using a mandolin if available) and toss with a squeeze of lemon.  Zest one blood orange, collecting zest on a plate.  Use a paring knife to slice blood oranges into half moons, removing skin and pith.  Toss all ingredients together, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Try adding avocado.

For more delicious ways to enjoy the winter, join Sierra Harvest for our first Soup Night of 2015, on Feb 12th at the Stonehouse!