Yesterday I walked outside with our puppy in the mid afternoon and it was cold. Really cold. Now cold is a relative term since here in California I realize, only for us here in the Sacramento foothills, a 40 degree day is a sign that the seasons have changed. The icy wind whipped up the valley and I knew it must be mandarin harvest time. Mandarin harvest in the Sacramento area foothills usually begins in early to mid November and continues through December. The warm days and cool nights in Penryn, Newcastle, Loomis, Lincoln and Auburn make the area a perfect place to grow sweet, juicy, seedless mandarins. The mandarins there are tree-ripened and hand-picked to ensure they are perfecty ripe and ready to eat.
I wanted to visit a farm we haven’t been to before and a friend recommended Struble Ranch and said her family has been buying mandarins from them for generations. Turns out the Loomis, CA mandarin farm has been in the Struble family since 1918 and was planted in 1956. In 1961 the Struble boys sold their first mandarins from paper bags out of their garage and they continue this tradition today.
When we pulled up to the family ranch we parked right next to a row of mandarin trees and Jim Struble was right at the garage entrance with a warm welcome. It’s a rare gift to meet a farmer that is so passionate about his craft and so ready to meet his customers. We chatted for a long time. Learning about farming methods on this ranch going into it’s 50th year of farming. The politics of farming. How to graft and bud mandarin trees and stories of years gone by. Conversations like this are so precious we took in every word and really basked in the moment as long as we could. Much like the fruit outside the chilly barn seemed to bathe in the golden fall sunlight filtering through the trees.
We saw the sorter in operation taking the just-picked mandarins and putting them into batches of XS, small, medium, large, XL and XXL. My youngest tot was encouraged to choose a mandarin to try and one to bring to her brother when he got out of school. We got a lesson in choosing the best pieces of fruit. Small mandarins are thought to be the sweetest and often this isn’t true. The smaller ones have thinner skin and can be more difficult to peel. The larger mandarins have thicker skin and are easier and quicker to get to the fruit inside. Greenish or yellowish fruit shouldn’t be ignored either. The deep orange color comes on with cold nights. Since we just started getting the freezing weather this week the fruit is just coming into the look we usually associate with ripe sweet mandarin fruit.
The first mandarins to ripen in November, and the ones available now, are the Owari Satsuma variety. They have a sweet, tangy citrus scent and last about two weeks after being picked. The best place to store the fruit is in a cool dry storage area like a garage. The mandarins that are ripe now are often thought of as the perfect accompaniment to a Thanksgiving meal and I bought a bag for us to spread around our Thanksgiving table this year.
Struble Ranch is a place I am definitely going to return to. There is something about the history, dedication and family that turned this land in Loomis into a magical gift not only for generations of Strubles, it’s a place for generations of local families too. This is definitely going to be a new tradition for us.
Struble Ranch is open daily from 9 am – 5pm from Mid-November to Mid-January. They can be reached at 916-652-7503 and are located at 4927 Hansen Road, Loomis, CA 95650. Dirt lot parking is available. The farm Facebook page keeps visitors up to date on what is going on at the farm and availability.
Want to get lunch on your day out? Try The Flower Farm Cafe for lunch and some play time. Read about our visit from earlier this year.