When autumn days in the Placer County foothills are warm and the nights are cold, mandarin orange growers anxiously await the first blush of color on their fruit. Just before Thanksgiving, samples are eagerly tasted for sweetness and then long hours are spent hand-snipping each stem to bring in the first crop of the season for the Mandarin Festival (which is also the weekend before Thanksgiving)!
The sweet and tangy citrus scent of Mandarin oranges permeates the crisp November air during the three-day Mandarin Festival held at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn, California. The Sierra Foothills, long-known for the discovery of gold in California, are also known for their golden treasure, the Mandarin orange. The Mandarin Festival attracts 25,000 to 30,000 visitors who savor the juicy fruit, which is available only late November through January. Most growers offer the seedless Owari Satsuma variety, often called the zipper fruit because it is so easy to peel. There are many other varieties of Mandarins.
There will be a dozen or more Placer County growers bringing thousands of familiar 10-pound orange-mesh bags of the fruit — ready for travel home to friends and family. Mandarins should be plentiful, however it’s a good idea to get your bags early and then enjoy the festival. Food vendors serve up mandarin infused drinks, salads, grilled meats, ice-creams, glazed nuts, chocolate-dipped mandarins, fudge, marinades, and syrups. Many of the growers offer homemade treats and gift baskets. Quality hand-crafted items are also for sale just in time for holiday giving and home trimming at more than 250 booths.
There are cooking demonstrations throughout the festival with Mandarins as an ingredient. And, there will be feature regionally known chefs. The popular Mandarin Recipe Contest on Sunday attracts amateur cooks who bring their prepared dish to be judged.