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Tim Steller's opinion: Eat a tangerine, bake a cake — just use your citrus
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Tim Steller's opinion: Eat a tangerine, bake a cake — just use your citrus

Back when the winds of May and June were blowing, they knocked tiny green tangerines off my tree, gust after gust, day after day.

The fruit I’d been carefully cultivating was blowing to the ground before reaching the size of a marble.

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I’d sweep them up and worry it was going to be another tangerine apocalypse year.

Since my family moved to this Tucson house, the tree has been unpredictable like that. The first winter I was shocked to have delicious fruit to pick and eat daily, December through March.

But bad years sometimes followed good years, forcing me to be more and more conscientious about nurturing our tangerine. We have two lemon trees, too, but I don’t worry so much about them. Who can use all those lemons?

Anyway, as it turned out, this wasn’t a bad tangerine year at all. Not even close.

People across the Tucson area know what I’m talking about. It’s the time of year when productive citrus trees have been giving their gifts for months, and the pleasure of plucking and eating has devolved into a rush to get the fruit off the tree before it falls off or goes bad.

It happens every year. But this year especially, it seems, people are more conscientious about not wasting the food growing from their ground.

Iskashitaa Refugee Network has teams that pick fruit and also accepts donations of excess harvested fruit. In this pandemic harvest season, business is booming.

“The demand for citrus is higher than it’s been in our 18 years of experience,” said Barbara Eiswerth, the group’s director. “We go out and harvest five days a week now. We’ve never really done that before. I’ve had to hire lead harvesters to help with the demand.”

Why? Eiswerth guesses people are more concerned about food waste in a time when lots of families have been hungry or worried about having enough food after losing work.

“We harvest Monday through Friday, 9 to noon, no more than eight people in a harvest. We’re masked, we’re distanced. We ask for a donation to pay for a portion of the harvest costs.”

If you have access to the internet, go online to Iskashitaa.org to make contact, or call the group at 520-440-0100.

By November, my tree was full of orange fruit, and in December, I began to pick. They were still somewhat sour then, but flavorful, and I sent two boxes full to family in Minnesota.

I imagined my relatives like kids in a Dickens novel, huddled around a coal fire, overjoyed as they opened the boxes of precious orange fruit. Of course, they could just go to the store in Minneapolis and buy tangerines there, but they weren’t my Arizona fruit, packed with flavor and also seeds.

Yes, the seeds can be annoying, but I have a way of dealing with them. Usually I eat the tangerine outside right after picking. I divide the peeled fruit into quarters, then bite the seeds out of the inner part of each section and spit them out. Voila! It is now seedless fruit.

One week in January, I was on the roof when I saw two neighbors outside. I beckoned them over and asked if they’d take some tangerines. I picked two bags of maybe 25 pieces each from the branches that reached over the roof, thinking that at least the rooftop picking was done.

Oh how wrong I was.

Every week or so I’ve been looking at the tree, thinking there were maybe a hundred tangerines left. I give away a bag here and there, pick a handful for our fruit bowl, eat one or two a day. Still, when I go back to the tree, week after week, it has looked like there are maybe a hundred tangerines left.

This last weekend, I climbed onto the roof and picked another 50, but I think I’m really down to my last hundred now.

I sent a third box to Minnesota, where my parents had to give some to friends, then squeeze a bunch to freeze the juice. And finally, we’ve started making cake.

My search history tells me I searched “tangerine desserts” and that way came up with a recipe for Tangerine Drizzle Cake by Erren Hart of Erren’s Kitchen. It requires the good stuff — butter, sugar, sour cream — and, most importantly, about eight tangerines per loaf, between zesting and juicing.

Having gone through a standard baking round, we’re getting ready for a gluten- and dairy-free attempt. Whatever — as long as it uses tangerines.

Better than wasting them.

Contact: tsteller@tucson.com or 807-7789. On Twitter: @senyorreporter.


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