It's Satsuma Time!!

Tom Fitzmorris November 05, 2019 09:43 Eat This Now

A group of Jesuit missionaries came to New Orleans in the 1700s. With the Jesuits came some small trees from Japan, along with the word "satsuma" for the place in Japan from which they came. Maps of New Orleans show the spot downriver ("Jesuit Bend") where the satsuma trees began to be planted (and still are).

Plaquemines Parish surrounds the Mississippi River in its last throes before the river reaches the seas of Gulf of Mexico. Along that stretch, fields of satsuma, the best citrus trees in America accompany oranges and other citrus fruits.  New Orleanians drive down the river to buy all of them, sometimes picking their own from the trees. Satsumas lead the parade. When you see the satsuma boxes you know it's time to start eating them, because the season is short.

And that is the best thing to do with satsumas. Just eat them. Mary Ann calls them nature's candy. She describes, almost sensually, the nose as the skin breaks open, and the mist this action generates. I agree. They're almost absurdly well loaded with juice as they cover your hands as the skins break. I save up some of the satsumas to flavor a cheesecake I make for Thanksgiving and Christmas. But most of them disappear quickly, several consumed at one time.

In most years, I tap the first batch of satsumas along the river when I make my annual trip to Manresa, the magnificent retreat I have attended annually for forty years. (Manresa, coincidentally, is operated by the Jesuits.) I try my best to cop a dozen or so satsumas as I walk along the levee, which usually has a good ripe “crop” by this time.

At the fruit stand in Abita it was always a ritual over the years to notice when the first bags of satsumas were hung on the rafters. We carefully watched every day passing by, and couldn't wait to tell Mary Leigh who eagerly awaited such news. We always delivered it along with a bag of the fruit, which would be half gone the next time we looked. 

A few years after my family moved to the north shore, we found a man who had a big area of oranges and satsumas for sale between Covington and  Mandeville. I bought a bunch of those from the man, but that would prove to be the last such nearby citrus. I bought a few cuttings and plantings, but they resulted in nothing. I tried two other small plantings, with equally poor results.

But around ten years ago, the little cutting put out two satsumas, though they never got edible. The same thing happened, with two or three more little strikes. And for a few years now, we have our own steady “crop” of six or seven. Then, for some reason, this year we have nine satsumas. They're running behind, with half still with green areas. I think we could be ready to harvest. One satsuma at a time. Mary Leigh will be thrilled. She's watched the little satsuma bush all the way!

It's a miracle!


Stir-Fried Satsuma Shrimp

When satsumas start coming in from Plaquemines Parish, we eat them by the sack. But I never cooked with them until my son's Cub Scout troop picked a short ton of them. 

Stir-fry dishes, in order to come out right, require a great deal of heat and either a wok or one of those wok-like skillets. Flat-bottomed woks are better for most home cooks, and essential if you have an electric stove. You have to preheat the wok for about ten minutes before you start cooking. And the pieces of food, particularly meats, need to be cut up smaller than your instincts tell you.

This concoction is very good served atop a spring mix salad, with a few satsuma sections scattered about, in a warm-cool contrast. This dish was inspired by something I found in "Hot Wok," one in a great series of books about Asian cooking for American cooks by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sanderson.

2 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled

1 red bell pepper

3 green onions

1/3 cup chopped pecans

3 Tbs. canola oil

1 Tbs. chopped garlic

Zest of 1 satsuma (or mandarin or tangerine)

1/2 cup satsuma juice, strained

1 1/2 Tbs. Vietnamese fish sauce (nuoc mam; optional)

1 Tbs. hoisin sauce 

1 tsp. Asian hot sauce (or Louisiana hot sauce, like Crystal)

2 tsp. cornstarch

1/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

1. Spread the pecans on a pizza pan and put them into a preheated 350-degree oven. Toast the pecans, shaking them around a time or two, for about five minutes. Remove and cool.

2. Slice the shrimp into four or five pieces each, crosswise.

3. Remove the seeds and stem of the bell pepper, and slice it into small dice. Slice the green onions into quarter-inch lengths.

4. Combine the satsuma juice, fish sauce, hoisin, hot sauce, cornstarch, and cilantro, and stir to blend completely.

5. Preheat the wok for ten minutes over the highest heat you have. Add the canola oil and roll it around to coat the sides of the wok. Add the garlic and satsuma zest and cook for a few seconds, then add the shrimp. Stir-fry constantly until the shrimp turn white at the outside--about 30 seconds.

6. Add the bell pepper and green onion and stir-fry for another 15 seconds or so. Let the vegetables remain crisp. Add the satsuma-juice mixture and stir it around until it thickens, which it will in about 15 to 30 seconds, depending on the heat you've been able to work up.

7. Add the pecans. Add salt to taste, and spoon out onto a warm platter.