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Zest for mandarins draws thousands to fall festival

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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It was elbow to elbow Saturday afternoon at the Gold Country Fairgrounds for the Mountain Mandarin Festival. Buoyed by a bright blue sky and sparkling fall sunshine, visitors poured in to browse for gifts, enjoy the food and snap up citrus specialties. The 10-pound bags of mandarins — priced from $13 to $14 — were the most popular purchase. Auburn resident Kathy Connelly was pulling a red wagon with two of the netted orange bags filled with fruit. Connelly, who’s been attending the festival since it started, said she likes to taste each grower’s mandarins before she makes her choice. “That way, you taste them all and find the ones you like best,” she said. “They do taste different. They’re not all the same.” Festival spokeswoman Karen Spencer estimated the crowd size as similar to last year — with Saturday’s attendance making up for Friday’s slow start caused by a fall storm that brought wind and rain. The three-day event draws more than 30,000 visitors each year. For the hundreds who came to enjoy Placer County’s specialty citrus, there was plenty to go around. Mandarins typically have a bountiful year followed by a leaner production year. This is a heavier crop-yield year, Spencer said. And there were numerous ways to enjoy the fruit, including — new this year — mandarin flan and mandarin-glazed pistachio nuts. But there were plenty of non-mandarin vendors, too. Green Frog Soap Works saw a steady stream of passersby who stopped to take in the scent of the hand-milled bars. Owner Susan Briggs of Sacramento said she has a booth at the festival every year. “I’ve been coming since it was held in Newcastle,” Briggs said. “I love being here and I have a dedicated clientele.” At the gate, Carter Bourn, age 3 ½, wearing a bright orange knitted cap, waited a little impatiently with sister, Natalie, and his mom, Jennifer Bourn, as his dad visited the ticket booth. “We’re working the (mandarin) booth tomorrow, but we came to play today,” Jennifer Bourn said. Carter and Natalie’s grandparents, Steve and June Bourn, own S & J Mandarin Grove in Newcastle. “It’s a great family event,” daughter-in- law Jennifer Bourn said about the festival. “The kids get their faces painted every year and ride ponies and there’s all the good stuff to eat.” The festival continues from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the Gold Country Fairgrounds in Auburn. Events include judging of the recipe contest in the Armory Building. Gloria Young can be reached at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com