Our Favorite Citrus of the Season: Page Mandarins
The Page mandarin is hailed for its super sugar and vitamin C content – it’s a Sigona’s favorite!
By Robbie Sigona
Around Christmas each year we expect the arrival of one of the best citrus from local farmer Paul Buxman of Sweet Home Ranch in Dinuba, Calif. which is located in the San Joaquin Valley. This just-arrived citrus is the Page mandarin, a fruit with deep orange skin and tender, juicy and sweet flesh. Our staff go crazy for these [practically] seedless gems because they know they’re the best of the season, and make the perfect stocking stuffers and after-dinner treats.
Paul Buxman, one of the most dedicated, kind-hearted and knowledgeable tree fruit farmers around, says, “there is simply no better citrus than the Page mandarin.” In fact, it’s ranked No. 1 for sugar content and vitamin C by the world’s largest citrus research center in Lindcove, Calif., just 15 miles from Sweet Home Ranch.
Another thing about these particular Page mandarins? Not only are they beyond good, they’re beyond organic. Fruit grown by Paul Buxman is Certified California Clean. Buxman is the founder of the California Clean Growers Association (CCGA), a certified farming system that protects the environment, supports small family farms, and delivers extraordinary produce at an affordable price. For example, they use absolutely no toxic materials on the plants, and only use organic material to enrich the soil. His fruits are tree-ripened, sweet and unique. Buxman farms from the heart, which makes his fruit all the more delectable.
A Little History
Unless you’ve shopped at Sigona’s for some time, there is a chance you’ve never heard of the Page. This citrus was developed about 40 years ago in Riverside, Calif., by its namesake, Dr. Page, as a cross between a Minneola and the varieties that make up the Clementine (a Navel orange and three to four various Japanese Satsuma varieties).
Though the Page is a virtually seedless variety, you’ll still find the occasional seed. This is the result of how its blossom was pollinated. Here’s a quick lesson in bees and pollen: if a bee gathers pollen from a nearby orchard of seeded citrus, such as a lemon, it’s likely the new fruit will contain some seeds. Buxman’s two acres of Pages grow just 400 yards away from a lemon grove, so as a result you may find an occasional seed.
Also, the variety isn’t widely grown because it’s not a “zipper skin,” meaning it’s not incredibly easy to peel like some other small citrus – a zipper skin is what generally makes other varieties a more popular choice for who Paul calls the “fast-food minded,” those who don’t want to or don’t have the time to slow down and peel or prepare more complicated foods.
“The Page is what I like to think of as a speed bump, or flavor bump, in the slow food movement,” said Buxman. “These flavor bumps are things that cause you to slow down and notice what you’re eating because you’re taking time to prepare and enjoy the item. The banana, for example, is always listed as one of the most popular fruits, but that’s because prep is next to nothing.”
The Flavor – There’s No Comparison
Buxman’s Sweet Home Ranch runs like a family operation. Most mornings the crew gathers before the day begins for a treat, which includes a glass of fresh-squeezed Page mandarin juice. “It takes three Pages to fill one wine glass, but there is nothing like it, not even the best fresh-squeezed orange juice can compare,” said Buxman.
The Page, as I mentioned earlier, achieves the highest levels of sugar produced in the world. It’s also the most acidic, but don’t let that deter you; the acid is what carries the flavor. That’s what makes the Page a popular pick for jams or marmalades, those culinary creations for which fruits with high sugar and high acid are sought. “It’s the acid that’s the part that makes people say, ‘wow,’” said Buxman.
As the Page is not a “zipper skin” variety, meaning there is no air or pockets between the rind and the fruit, the fruit is extremely durable. Buxman notes that this characteristic makes so Pages can stay fresh in the fridge for up to three months. He also notes that this makes them great shippers.
“They’re so easy to pop in a flat-rate box and send anywhere, it’s an absolutely memorable gift, especially if they’re sent to family members living somewhere like Minnesota this time of year,” said Buxman.
If there is one sure-fire thing to say about Buxman’s Clean Growers operation, it’s that the passion he has for what he does radiates out of each piece of fruit that comes from Sweet Home Ranch. After each is cleaned and dried, the Sweet Home Ranch crew rub each Page with a little mineral oil before it’s hand packed in the boxes. This gives them a little shine and nourishes the natural oils in the rind.
“We hand polish each one; it’s a lost labor of love,” said Buxman. “We use good ol’ plain, ordinary mineral oil instead of the varnish or wax that some larger operations use. Just a little goes a long way; for the entire crop this year, thousands of boxes, we’ve used less than a quart.”
While the Page is good for eating out of hand, it also makes for a killer salad. Its intense color also adds a gorgeous element to any dish. One of Paul’s favorite ways to serve it, aside from as fresh-squeezed juice, is in a simple salad of baby greens and a light vinaigrette.
One note about the juice, though, “it can’t be prepared a day ahead of time because of enzymes in the fruit, just as in Navel oranges, make it impossible to keep without becoming bitter,” said Buxman.
Find more recipes for Page mandarins on our blog, and hurry in for this absolutely delicious fruit!