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An orange tree is covered in icicles at Foothill Organic Growers in Newcastle on Dec. 6, 2013. Despite freezing cold weather and eight nights below 32 degrees, local farmers say their citrus trees and fruit pretty much survived the frost scare. They’ll celebrate the mandarin crop Dec. 21 and 22 during Orchard Days, hosted by the Mountain Mandarin Growers Association.

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    Where: Sierra foothills farms

    When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

    Admission: Free


    Several mandarin growers open their orchards and farm stands to the public this weekend for a taste of local citrus. See how mandarins grow while getting fruit direct from farmers. Most locations also offer crafts and fun activities to go with their fruit. For locations and directions, visit the website.

What frost? Mandarins ready for Orchard Days

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 - 7:21 pm

Some nights felt plenty chilly, but most foothill citrus growers dodged December’s big cold bullet. So, there will be plenty of mandarins available for buyers during this weekend’s final Orchard Days.

Eight straight nights of sub-freezing temperatures took their toll on local mandarin orchards.

“We probably lost 10 to 20 percent of low-hanging fruit,” said Steve Pilz, a third-generation foothill mandarin grower. “(On the coldest night), the air temperature got down to 22 degrees at 3:30 in the morning. Luckily, all we got were a few flakes of snow. A few years back, we could actually ski on our property.”

Pilz’s family has been growing mandarins in the Sierra foothills since 1927. His Pilz Produce at Hillcrest Orchard in Penryn ranges between 450 and 775 feet of elevation. The older trees help insulate themselves against hard frost.

“Our trees are 70 years old and quite large,” he said. “Inside (branches near the trunk), they stayed about 30 degrees while on the outside (branches), it was 27 degrees. Any fruit that had fallen on the ground was frozen solid. It was quite an interesting bit of thermal knowledge.”

During Orchard Days’ pre-Christmas weekend, patrons can meet farmers, sample fruit and shop for gifts. Many of the family-run orchards will offer more than mandarins, such as wine or beer tasting and craft sellers.

Organized by the Mountain Mandarins Growers Association, Orchard Days offers something for visitors of all ages. At Penryn’s Highland Orchard, cookbook author Joanne Neft will sign copies of her new book, “The Art of Real Food.” That same farm will host wine tasting from Fawnridge Winery and offer rides on a vintage carousel.

Mandarin Hill Orchards will host crafters, food vendors, face-painting and wine tasting, courtesy of Lone Buffalo Vineyards. Sunset Ridge will offer a barbecue lunch, beer tasting from Loomis Basin Brewery and an opportunity to pick your own fruit. Colwell Thundering Herd Mandarin Ranch will feature tastings of its award-winning citrus-laced olive oils.

For directions and a complete list of participants, go to

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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