Holding Court: Owari Mandarins are royalty at Snow’s Citrus

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The Snow Family received the 2011 Farmer of the Year award at PlacerGROWN’s Food & Farm Conference. Pictured, from left, are Karen Killebrew giving the award to Bob Bonk and Tshandy, Larry and Ralene Snow. Photo courtesy of Auburn Journal.

Tucked into the majestic Sierra Nevada Foothills lays Snow’s Citrus Court and their fabled and abundant orchards. Ralene Snow, known to many as the “Mandarin Queen,” along with her husband Larry, their daughter Tshandy, and Tshandy’s husband Robert Bonk are owners of the successful family owned and operated company.

“Ralene helped start the Mandarin Festival up here, “ explains Robert, “ and a lot of people call her the Mandarin Queen because of that, which is kind of where the ‘court’ in Snow’s Mandarin Court comes from. But there’s also another reason, Ralene is crazy about tennis and actually had a court built right in the middle of the orchard!”

This kind of ingenuity is inherent in the Snow family. They settled in Newcastle, California in the early 1970’s with their daughters, Tiffany and Tshandy. Across the street from their home was an abandoned orchard still abundant with fruit. Tiffany and Tshandy loved exploring among the old trees, coming home with armloads of sweet, delicious fruit.

Robert Bonk and Tshandy Snow
Robert Bonk and Tshandy Snow

That sweet fruit turned out to be Owari Mandarins, a loose skinned, seedless, and very fragrant variety. When the Snow’s started thinking about what to plant on their sizable plot of land, it seemed natural that they chose the same variety of mandarin.

“We knew it thrived in this climate and that they were incredibly delicious. The only problem was finding a supplier,” Robert explains.

But they did and the Snow’s planted the orchard with plenty of the fruit, gradually adding more varieties over the years including Meyer lemons, kumquats, Bearss limes, Oro Blanco grapefruit, Pummelo, Sanguinelli oranges, pomegranates, persimmons and figs.

Freshness and tree ripened are hallmarks of their operation as are a commitment to land stewardship and sustainable growing practices.

Snow's Citrus Products
Snow’s Citrus Products

“All of our fruit is hand picked, at the peak of ripeness and sold or directly shipped immediately.” Robert continues, “we believe in growing our product in an environmentally responsible way. Every season we open up the orchard and let people come and see for themselves, taste for themselves.”

“We are able to grow our citrus in sustainable ways. We don’t have to use pesticides because we don’t have the pest problems bigger more closely planted orchards do. Our orchards are smaller and farther apart making pests a nonissue,” Robert explains.

Robert also points out that the older the tree, the better the taste. “In the 1990’s rootstock began to change reflecting a desire for faster production time and a more uniform look. But that was all at the expense of taste.”

Tshandy Snow strolls through her mandarin orchard. Photo courtesy of Auburn Journal.
Tshandy Snow strolls through her mandarin orchard. Photo courtesy of Auburn Journal.

Snow’s Citrus Court have been showcased in the likes of The Splendid Table, Sunset Magazine, and were even a New York Times pick for their 10 Things to Buy for the Holidays feature.

“It got really busy after that happened.” Robert laughs. “All Ralene did was send a box to one of the editors at the New York Times and that did it!”

An apt testimony to one of the sweetest, most fresh citrus available in season. Snow’s Citrus was a pioneer in direct shipping of seasonal fresh fruit in the 80’s and has a dedicated national following today.

Although the seasonal window for the fruit is small, Snow’s Citrus is able to extend that season with its wide array of family developed products all showcasing the fruit for which they are known. The products range from savory to sweet including a tangy sweet Mandarin Orange Grill Sauce, a bright and layered Orange Balsamic Vinaigrette, and a deeply rich and satisfying Mandarin Orange Dark Chocolate Sauce.

Tshandy and Robert’s daughter Skylar
Tshandy and Robert’s daughter Skylar doing the exploring and quality control.

Two cookbooks have been made showcasing their fabulous product line as well as the family’s repertoire of citrus inspired recipes.

The family continues to build on its success, and is currently amidst a generational change as Tshandy and Robert take over operations. In a reflection of this change, the company name is being shortened to simply “Snow’s Citrus.”

“We want to pay homage to the older generation but also make it our own,” Robert continues “working with Purveyors Kitchen, formerly Mad Wills, our copacker, is an important part of maintaining our brand identity while also creating the change and growth we want.”

“We have been with Mad Wills since the beginning and it is exciting to see the new owners John and Karen Foley come in and reinspire the company,” says Bob.

Speaking of inspiration, Tshandy and Robert recently got the opportunity to buy the very same orchard Tshandy and her sister used to explore, the original inspiration for their family orchard. The same trees are still there, still producing the same sweet fruit Tshandy used to bring home by the armload, only now it is Tshandy and Robert’s daughter Skylar doing the exploring and quality control.

With a legacy of orchards cultivated by a new generation, the future for Snow’s Citrus couldn’t be brighter.

For more information about Snow’s Citrus and their products, please visit their website at www.snowscitrus.com, or call 916.663.1884

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