Of Satsumas and Secrets
Do you have something secret you like to eat?
My three year old granddaughter’s latest obsession is Louisiana Satsumas, an ethereal variety of mandarin citrus.
Rory sneaks into the fridge, pulls open the only drawer she can reach, and carries her booty off to all corners of the house.
Later, like the birds that ate Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumb trail, I sweep away slivers of fire opal peels from the floors and rugs, sofa cushions, beneath chairs and under the canopies of child fashioned forts.
According to MFK Fisher, perhaps the greatest food writer ever, almost everyone has something secret they like to eat.
For Mary Francis, it was tangerines. She called her pleasure in them, “subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable.”
She instructed, “In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines. Three or four.”
This section from Fisher’s book, Serve It Forth, is one of the most sensuous pieces of prose I have ever read. If you are a food lover and are unfamiliar with her writing, I urge you to check it out post haste.
If you are a food lover and have access to Louisiana Satsumas, I urge you run, don’t walk to the store and pick some up. If tangerines are subtle and voluptuous and quite inexplicable, Satsuma mandarins are purely magical.
They appear in Louisiana every fall, heralding the holiday season with their tender mottled green and orange skins. They are exceptionally easy to peel because they contain very little albedo. Albedo is the fleshy, white layer between the pulp and peel that is found in most citrus.
All tangerines are mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines. A member of the mandarin family, Satsumas are one of the sweetest citrus varieties on the planet.
They start out tart at the beginning of the season (my favorite time), and grow increasingly sweet as they spend time on the tree. This is especially true if there is a cold snap, as the lower temperatures increase the sugar content in the fruit.
This is why a Satsuma tree planted further South, will not bear fruit as good as what is found in Louisiana.
The name Satsuma was given to the trees by the wife of a U.S. ambassador to Japan in the late 1800’s, because the trees came from the province that was known, at that time, as Satsuma.
It speaks to the times that his name, General Van Valkenburg, is known to history, while the lady who actually named the fruit is referred to as “the wife.”
Also of interest is that the final stand of Japan’s elite warrior class, the Samurai, took place at The Battle of Shiroyama, in what is known as the Satsuma Rebellion.
I’m fairly sure that Rory knows nothing of the Satsuma Rebellion, but she does know that Satsuma mandarins are the perfect snack to enjoy in the privacy of your fort.
And while M.F.K. Fisher and Rory prefer to keep their citrus a secret, I want everyone to share in the experience.
While Satsumas are divine alone, they are magnificent in recipes as well.
Personally, I love mimosas made with Satsuma rather than orange juice.
Satsumacello, a riff on Limoncello, is a delicious drink on its own, or added to cocktail or punch recipes.
Any recipe that calls for orange juice, in fact, can be elevated by the substitution of Satsuma juice.
Pastry Chef Lisa White, of renowned restaurant Dominica in New Orleans says, "I am originally from California and have never seen a community so in love with a fruit like the satsuma."
If you are able to get your hands on some, I have no doubt you will fall in love with them, too.
Below are three recipes that are perfect for the holidays. The first is a sweet and savory ham glaze. The second is an easy shortbread, with citrus tang and a pop of salt. The third is for Satsumacello. These recipes will also work well with tangerine juice or orange juice as a substitute.
Dr. Pepper and Satsuma Glazed Ham
Years ago, Cook’s Country printed a recipe for a Dr. Pepper glazed ham utilizing a cooking bag, low baking temperature, and resting the ham at room temperature beforehand.
I’ve adapted this to the following recipe, wrapping the ham tightly in foil before baking. (Because I have never remembered to buy a cooking bag before the holidays.) I also substitute Satsuma juice for the orange juice, increasing the juice amount by a little.
No matter what you decide to glaze your ham with, give this method a try. It results in a tender, juicy ham that everyone will love.
Although you can use a spiral sliced ham, I don’t. Pre-cut hams tend to dry out when cooking.
1 7 to 10 pound ham
¾ cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons Dijon or yellow mustard
½ cup Dr. Pepper
½ cup Satsuma juice
Remove ham from packaging, including the plastic disc in the center. Place in a baking pan and wrap tightly with aluminum foil.
Let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 250 degrees.
Place the ham in the oven and cook for 2 hours. Internal temperature should reach 100 degrees.
Heat the brown sugar and mustard in a small saucepan on medium heat.
Once the sugar has melted and the mustard has incorporated, add the Dr. Pepper and Satsuma juice.
Continue to cook on low heat until the sauce has thickened.
After the ham has cooked for two hours, remove from the oven and glaze with half of the sauce.
Return to the oven uncovered for an additional ten minutes.
Remove from the oven. Let rest for about 15 to 20 minutes. Slice thinly. Drizzle the remaining glaze on top of the slices. Serve.
*Regular cola can be substituted if you don’t have Dr. Pepper on hand. Orange, tangerine or pineapple juice can also be substituted for the Satsuma juice.
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons zested Satsuma peel (Make sure there is no white pith.)
½ teaspoon Himalayan sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons Satsuma juice
In a large bowl or in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, thoroughly cream the butter, ½ cup powdered sugar and two tablespoons of the zested peel.
Combine the flour and salt in a medium bowl.
Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Stir on low or by hand until completely incorporated.
Remove dough from the bowl and make a log by rolling in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 40 minutes, or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with a Silicone baking sheet or parchment paper.
Slice cookies about ¼ inch thick, and place on cookie sheet.
Bake for ten to twelve minutes. You do not want the cookies to get brown.
Let cool on a cookie rack.
Mix the remaining ½ cup powdered sugar, Satsuma juice and tablespoon of zest in a small bowl.
Once the cookies are completely cooled, brush the tops with the glaze.
Makes about 15 cookies
*Substitute a good quality vegan butter for a fantastic vegan cookie.
3 cups vodka
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Peel Satsumas, taking care not to get any of the white pith. Check peels and scrape off any pith that may still be there.
Place vodka and peels in a quart sized Mason jar. Store in a cool, dry place for four to five days, shaking daily.
Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium heat, then reduce and simmer on low for a few more minutes. You now have simple syrup.
Let the simple syrup cool.
Add the simple syrup to the quart jar. Shake and seal. Store overnight.
Strain the mixture, discarding the peels. Put the Satsuma Cello back into the quart jar and refrigerate.
*Like Limoncello, Satsumacello can be served as a digestif, after meals. Feel free to keep in the freezer.
*Satsumacello makes a fine addition to sangria, tropical or fruit punch type cocktails.