Friday, January 7, 2011


This is a bit unfair of me, I know--it's well past the season for these majestic citrus fruits, so it'll be pretty much impossible to find any until next fall. But I took some pictures around the first of December, and there is a way to preserve some of their unique flavor that's worth sharing. If you don't mind waiting a year to try it...

Satsumas have a flavor and sweetness akin to (but much better than) a tangerine or mandarin, a skin that comes off very easily, and no seeds! For some reason, I forget to look for them in the late fall, so it's always a sudden thrill when I see them in the market somewhere--it's like finding wild raspberries on a summer hike in the mountains (Wow! Look! Rip. Slurp. Yum!). The guys in the produce section always forgive my unbridled brigandage, partly because they know me by now, but also because I invariably end up buying a ton of them on the spot.

Satsuma season is very brief; they show up toward the middle of November, and in two or three weeks they're gone. Sometimes you can get them as late as Christmastime, but their flavor will have slipped from bright and miraculous to well, much better than nothing.

Once in a while, I'll go off the deep end and buy a case right when they first appear, thinking I'll have them for a while (yeah, right). Two problems with this idea: 1) they're so easy to peel and eat, you go through them like mad, and 2) even at a furious devouring rate, you still can't keep pace with their ripening speed, even with help, so the flavor will decline by the time you're eating the last ones.

A couple of  years ago, I decided to dry some of them when they were at their peak to see what would happen. This was before I bought a dehydrator, so it took them over a week to sun-dry completely. Also, the first time around, I sliced them a little too thick, which made them take even longer. Live and learn, right? Ultimately it doesn't matter how thick or thin you slice them--once they're dry, they taste equally fabulous (although nothing like the fresh ones, let's face it). They're like citrus chips that start as a crunch and then begin to reconstitute in your mouth, releasing both the sweet juice flavor and the very slightly bitter oils in the skin. Freaking spectacular, frankly.

Then I had the idea to grind them to a powder and use them throughout the year as a spice. This turned out to be a brilliant move (except that it reduced my stash of satsuma chips to about an afternoon's worth).  A mere teaspoon of the powder can hurl a salad dressing or dessert sauce into another world of taste sensation with one whirl of the whisk. I had saved some of those quaint little old-world bottles of Sanbitter  (a non-alcoholic version of Campari by San Pellegrino) because I couldn't bear to throw them away, so I filled them with the satsuma powder and used them as gifts for special people. Sorry, no picture; they're gone like a satsuma in winter.

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