THAT'S LAUDERDALE

Winter's blast just icing on the cake for Lowcountry citrus growers

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJanuary 16, 2014 

STAFF ILLUSTRATION

The recent arctic storm put a sour taste in a lot of mouths, but not for Lowcountry citrus growers.

For one thing, the nights when wind chills supposedly dipped into single digits hit at the end of our citrus season.

Lemons left outside on the trees might now feel more like golf balls.

But Annie Snider, who lives off of Muddy Creek Road on Hilton Head Island, said she tried a couple of oranges from the tree in her yard this week, and they are still sweet and juicy.

Mrs. Snider had to trim her tree last year because it was so tall, it took a bucket truck to reach most of the oranges. She planted it from a seed, and it grew to 30 feet or so.

"Oh, Lord," she said, "I used to fill a big No. 3 tub twice a week."

She put the tub out by the road for people to take the oranges home.

Citrus trees offer a sweet-and-sour taste of Lowcountry life that lots of folks miss.

Bob Manne, better known for his silky tenor voice and his work on the board of the Hilton Head Public Service District, is in charge of the citrus grove at the Hilton Head Plantation community garden.

He planted 24 citrus trees at the farm eight years ago. They were babies less than 3 feet tall. People thought it wouldn't work.

This season, they produced more than 7,800 pieces of fruit. That included numerous varieties of lemons, oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.

The cold snap left the trees looking horrible. But it's the roots that matter, Manne said, and he's confident they'll all survive. In fact, he said, they needed to hibernate, something the warmth of the past two winters has prevented.

In November and December, they sell Meyer lemons, blood oranges, tangelos and many other citrus items on Saturday mornings. Betty Manne, a master gardener, makes lemon curd. And they sell kumquat marmalade made with and without Grand Marnier.

"We planted varieties people will not find in the grocery store," Bob Manne said.

Over the years, the clientele has gotten more sophisticated.

And for the first time this year, two local restaurants bought some of the citrus, Manne said.

He cleared the trees on the Saturday before the polar vortex turned temperatures in the Lowcountry lower than they were in Colorado. About 200 pounds that didn't sell that day were donated to Second Helpings.

Citrus has finally gained a place at the table in Charleston's amazing culinary revival.

Jack and Andrea Limehouse at Limehouse Produce sponsored a contest among Charleston restaurants to find the best citrus entrees, desserts and drinks. The judging was Wednesday.

At The Glass Onion farm-to-table restaurant on the Savannah Highway, partner Sarah Kelly was a finalist with her orange cream pie.

Win or lose, rain or shine, Lowcountry citrus lovers will keep making lemonade out of pampered lemons.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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