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Mountain Mandarin Festival sweetening up the weekend

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal features editor
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The mandarins are coming. The 17th annual Mountain Mandarin Festival kicks off today and continues through Sunday at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. The festival features live entertainment, a recipe contest, hundreds of vendors, wine tasting, a 5K run, the Miss Mandarin Pageant, kids activities and more than a dozen mandarin growers peddling their fresh, delicious fruit. The festival aligns with the start of Placer County’s winter harvest season, said Karen Killebrew, president of PlacerGROWN. “The mandarins are the first thing to get us into the new season,” she said. “I think the mandarin is really the harbinger of this winter citrus wonderland.” Ralene Snow, of Snow’s Citrus Court, agrees. “It is a special little thing,” she said of the mandarin. “It is such a unique piece of fruit, and it is so healthy.” Harvest began earlier this week for the owari satsuma mandarins that account for about 80 percent of the citrus grown by Snow’s Citrus Court on 2.5 acres in Newcastle, Snow said. Snow’s Citrus Court has been involved with the Mandarin Festival since its first year. Snow said it’s been great to watch the festival, and awareness of the fruit, grow over time. “Up until 20 years ago most people thought mandarins only came in a tin,” she said. Snow plans to spend the next couple days at the festival, and will demonstrate the preparation of Mandarin Orange Dessert Crepes throughout the weekend. “The cooking stage, that’s just become a real popular area,” Snow said. Snow’s Citrus Court also makes artisan sauces and marinades, and they’ll use the festival to unveil two more. The first is a dark chocolate mandarin sauce and the second is a mandarin orange fruit spread. “It’s really like as if someone mashed up a mouthful of mandarins for you,” Snow said. While mandarins are the big cheese this weekend, the festival features plenty of produce. PlacerArts’ AGROart competition, which found its start at the Mountain Mandarin Festival, takes place Saturday. “Saturday is play-with-your-food day,” said Killebrew, who is also a PlacerArts program specialist. The idea behind the contest is to sculpt masterpieces on site using at least 60 percent fruits and vegetables. The competition begins at 9 a.m. and features eight age-related categories for teams and individuals. Judging for grammar and middle school contestants is held at noon and judging for high-school and adult contestants takes place at 2 p.m. Cash awards are available. “It’s amazing what they can come up with,” Killebrew said of the level of creativity connected to the AGROart competition. Younger festivalgoers who aren’t the competitive type can still play with their food at the AGROart Produce Playground, sponsored by Whole Foods, Killebrew said. __________ Mountain Mandarin Festival When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, 1273 High St., Auburn Cost: $6 general, $4 for seniors 60 and older, free for children under 12 Information: www.mandarinfestival.com