My Father-in-Law’s Fruit Trees


The fruit trees in the backyard of my father-in-law’s house are cheerful reminders that we are in southern California. In late December, when my wife and I go there to celebrate the holiday season, the citrus and persimmon trees are already full of fruit, ready to be picked. My father-in-law used to dry lots of persimmons in the sun until they got leathery, a process that would take weeks. People he’d given them to remarked how delicious they were. He doesn’t do that anymore. The flocks of wild parrots that swarm the San Gabriel Valley feast on the soft, ripened ones, making the partially eaten ones unwholesome.

There are several kinds of citrus trees. Quite seedy, the oranges are better for juicing rather than being eaten. The grapefruits are not as sweet as those that come from Florida or Texas, but they’re not bad. The kumquats are sweeter than any we’ve ever purchased.

The fruit that is everyone’s favorite is the mandarin orange (or satsuma tangerine). With their easy-to-peel rind, they are a great snack. I can easily eat a half dozen of them daily. For some inexplicable reason, last year the mikan (as they called in Japanese) were the sweetest that they’d ever been (and the skins hardest to peel). My theory was that the tree had been pruned just prior to the fruiting season and therefore more energy directed to fewer fruit, but (if true) the quality should have carried over to this year as well. Instead, they were bigger and not as flavorful though still good to eat. We used a nice specimen with single leaf still attached to top the traditional New Year’s kagami mochi. Even though it’s made of plastic, we got rid of the “head” and replaced it will a real tangerine.

The fruit trees are a sight for sore eyes after we first arrive from the Pacific Northwest.

Kumquats

Kumquats

Grapefruit

Grapefruit

Oranges

Oranges

Persimmons

Persimmons

Kagami mochi

Kagami mochi

Osechi Ryori (New Year’s food)


Today is New Year’s Day. Like every year, the family can relax and enjoy each other’s company, watch some BCS bowl games and—let’s get down to it—eat the food that we’ve labored all day yesterday to prepare. Somehow, in a small kitchen, everything gets made, the only things done elsewhere being teriyaki chicken wings and chashu (char siu) that are barbecued in the backyard.

The cooks included my father-in-law, three sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, a nephew, my wife, my daughter, a longtime family friend and myself. In other years, my other daughter and her husband have also helped. Because they now live far away, they can’t always join us. Friends of the family also drop by occasionally, sharing in the repast.

The food will be our primary source of sustenance for the next few days. In the past, we’ve made way too much food, more than we could reasonably finish. As a practical matter, this year we’ve made a concerted effort to ‘downsize.’
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