Satsuma – The Lousiana Citrus with a Japanese Origin

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This fun trip to New Orleans has been, as always a trip of firsts.   I’ve eaten my first turtle, my first mirliton (pickled and roasted), had my first Sazerac cocktail, and now tasted my first Satsuma.

I heard the word Satsuma on the Laura Plantation tour , when the tour guide mentioned it as one of the fruit bearing trees on site.  I had never heard of it, so I asked her and she said it was a citrus fruit not quite as tart as an orange, but not quite so sweet as a tangerine.   Apparently its only grown in the southernmost parishes of Louisiana, whose climate  is considered sub tropical.   That’s also the region there were no cotton plantations, only sugar cane below the Louisiana/Mississippi state line.

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In the Laura gift shop they sell a bottle of Bayou brand Satsuma flavored rum, which the docent couldn’t speak highly enough of .   Kati drinks hers with a topoff of club soda or sparkling water.   And, she talks highly of using it to make an Orange Julius at the holidays- which includes cream and Bayou satsuma rum.    Since then, two other women highly recommended trying the satsuma flavored rum – the docent at St. Joseph’s Plantation, and a French tourist at Oak Alley Plantation.   Needless to say my plantation tour turned into a rum afficianado tour.

The St. Joseph plantation docent was nice enough to let me pick some Satsuma from their tree to take with me.   It’s not quite the season, but she said wait a week or so and they’ll be ready.   They’re typically harvested in  mid-Fall.

The Satsuma is a loose skinned, almost seedless citrus fruit, about the size of a tangerine.    It’s sweet and low in acid,   They are thought to have originated in China, but come from Japan most recently.   The earliest record of their importation to the U.S. is in 1876, by George Hall to Florida.  Then it 1878, the wife of the Minister to Japan, Mrs. General Van Valkenberg, sent trees back home from Satsuma, the former province, now the Kagoshima Prefecture, on the southern tip  of Kyushu Island, where it is said to have originated.    From 1908 to 1911 nearly a million budded trees were sent and planted in the Gulf States, creating a mini-micro industry that apparently doesn’t reach the Midwest.

Well, now I have a new citrus to experiment with and use to make some fun cocktails.

The Chicago Spicy Condiment That’s More Important Than Ketchup

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Giardiniera sounds more like a disease than a food product. But to Chicagoans, and even more importantly, Chicago Italians, it’s a condiment more important than ketchup. It’s the element, that to the outsider like me, distinguishes a Chicago Italian Beef sandwich from a Philly Cheesesteak. Chicagoans recognize and appreciate it, putting it on everything from hot dogs to deep dish pizza and even on scrambled eggs. It exists in a radius as far south from Chicago as Merrillville, Indiana, where it can be seen in the Subway counter as a sandwich topper.

I had it last week on an all-beef hot dog at Portillos, the famous Chicago hot dog chain, and on an Italian beef sandwich at Nana’s in Elmhurst. It adds that little punch and crunch that brings an average bite into an exceptional one.

The spicy mix contains pickled chiles, celery, cauliflower, carrots, and olives submerged in oil. It adds instant heat, crunch, and acid to whatever it’s dolloped upon. In Italian, it means ‘mixed pickles,’ but in Italy it’s preserved in vinegar rather than oil. That gives it a different flavor than the American version. The Italian giardiniera is more of an antipasta thing, to be served with a charcuterie plate, whereas the American type is more of a condiment.

It has it’s cousins in America – like Southern Chow Chow for example. English Piccalilli or Indian Chutneys also bear familial resemblance to giardiniera. The traditional mixed pickle that went on the now forgotten relish trays of the 1950s are also on the same family tree.

Sandwich chain Potbelly has introduced giardiniera to the rest of the world outside of Chicago’s Little Italy. They sell hundreds of tons of it a year. If you’ve ever had ‘hot peppers’ on a Potbelly sandwich you’ve eaten giardiniera.

The Pickled Pig in Over-the-Rhine ferments their own version.  And, Kofina’s Olives at Findlay Market has a great hot version that I try to keep in stock.

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Chicago’s V. Formusa Co. is the maker of the best-selling giardiniera brand. The company was founded in 1898 by Vincent Formusa, an immigrant from Termini Imerese, Sicily. “At first, he was importing oil and Italian produce,” says Johnson, Formusa’s GM. “Then he got into the Sicilian method of preserving vegetables in oil.” While Johnson won’t claim that his company was the first to sell giardiniera in Chicago, he believes the company is in “strong contention for at least popularizing it.”  The original store was near Grand Avenue and Halstead Street.

V. Formusa makes giardiniera under a number of different brands and also makes all the giardiniera for the Portillo’s chain. Giardiniera is an immigrant food that truly adapted and embedded into its Chicago home.

The Chicago Candy Company With A Product Named After a Misshapen Baby

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There’s a large red neon sign you pass on I-290 in Chicago that blazons the name of the largest non-chocolate candy maker in the United States – the Ferrara Pan Candy Company. I passed it several times on my daily drive into a convention last week. When thinking of candy companies you usually think of chocolate bars, not hard candy. And most people don’t even know what pan candy is, because it’s such an old term. Basically pan candy has a center that is spun in a drum or “panned’ with a coating that is sprayed into the drum and coats the candy as it spins. The end result are candies like Ferrara’s main brands: Lemonheads, Cherry Chan, Boston Baked Beans – one of my all time faves- Alexander the Grape, and Red Hots. With one billion in annual sales, Ferrara has between 300 and 400 pans coating hard candy at any one time.

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The company started as a bakery in 1908 by Italian Immigrant Salvatore Ferrara and his wife, Serafina. Sal’s family had been bakers in Nola, Italy, a bit inland from Naples. Arriving in America at 15 solo, Sal taught himself English, and became an interpreter between English foremen and Italian immigrant rail laborers in Texas. He moved to Chicago and opened a small bakery in the heart of  its “Little Italy” neighborhood, making wedding cakes for the immigrant community. He also made candied almonds, called ‘confetti’, or Jordan almonds, that were popular at Italian weddings, both on the cake, and as small gifts for the guests.  Soon, the Ferraras were getting so many requests for the candied almonds they couldn’t keep up with production at their small bakery, so Sal partnered with his brothers-in-law, opened a candy factory, and the rest, as they say, is history.

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Italian immigrant entrepreneurs, Sal and Serafina Ferrara, founders of Ferrara Pan Candy Company.

Probably the most recognizable candy the company produces are the mouth-puckering Lemonheads, the brainchild of the founder. The candy – a sugar coated outside with a tart lemon inside – was released in 1962. The founder saw his grandson, Sal II, after being delivered with forceps, and noticed his misshapen ‘lemon-head.’  So, he thought it would be cute to name the new candy after his grandson’s temporary deformity.

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Nello Ferrara, son of the founder, released another iconic American hard candy, the Atomic Fireball, a jawbreaker, in 1954, which was the first super-spicy American candy.

After an acquisition in 2012 of the Farley and Sathers Candy Company, the confectioner’s brands more than doubled with Black Forest Gummy Bears, and a host of other well-known candies.

Ferrara was recently acquired in 2017 by Ferrero, the European company that makes Nutella Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread. They are also the makers of Kinder Joy, a European candy with a plastic egg that splits in two. One side has a chocolate candy and the other side has a small toy. The Kinder Joy product was formerly prohibited in the U.S. because of choke hazard with the small toy inside, but since January of this year it has shown up in U.S. Candy stores, just in time for Easter, when a huge marketing campaign made Americans aware of its availability.

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The Lemonheads and Boston Baked Beans are still available, as they have been for over 60 years, for a quarter a box. And the founder’s granddaughter, Nella Davies, still runs the small bakery that started it all.