Mary Marcus: Sumos

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I have an artist friend who says that when she feels blue she eats a lot of orange food because orange cancels out blue. And I think she’s right, because I’ve been inexplicably sad for days; nothing can cheer me up. Until I walked into the Japanese market on the corner and saw that the sumos are in.

Sumos, like the name implies, are big and fat. They are a cross between a navel orange and a mandarin. They are very expensive, close to three dollars a pop, so I am always saying a little prayer and not buying more than two at a time. The rule is if you buy a whole flat of them, they are going to be bitter and hard and juiceless. If you buy only two, they will be perfect and you will gobble them up one after the other.

What is it that makes a sumo so unlike any other piece of citrus? Weight is one thing. A good sumo weighs close to half a pound. It’s dense and heavy, and as sweet as the sweetest orange you’ve ever tasted, but with the added interest and zest of a tangerine. I wouldn’t think of adulterating a sumo in a fruit salad, though if I were a chef at a fancy place I might just make a fresh sumo tart with kiwi and raspberry. Though the custard and the tart are totally unnecessary and sort of a sin when a sumo is involved. Like a great piece of art, a good one stands alone.

I only have one friend who feels as I do about sumos which is that they cancel out the sense of loss and sadness that happens after the last of the fuyu persimmons have left the stands not to return until just before Thanksgiving. Post fuyu tristesse…. Sumos have a much shorter lifespan, just about a month. And probably for that reason they are to me the sweetest and most fleeting of all fruit. Fuyus are so abundant in California from Thanksgiving until about the middle of January that people are tossing them in green salads and throwing them in pasta. They even get cheap. You’d never treat a sumo that lightly. And they are never two for five bucks or anything like that. If a fuyu persimmon is a sweet juicy princess, then a sumo tangerine is a monarch who sits on his throne with a jeweled crown and scepter. The sumo rules.

I just ate my first one, and I’d say it was an 8.5 out of a possible 10, which is pretty damn good for the first batch of the season. I wish I had eaten it more slowly and savored it more. I’m going to try to save the other one for later.

I hide them from my husband, because he will casually peel one, gobble it down, then say, “It’s okay, I don’t think they are that good.” A friend of his who is a very good cook, thought they were “okay” too, and so did his wife. Last year, I parted with two from a very good batch, one for each of them, and I’ll never forget their “okay” and will never try and please those two again. That’s the thing with sumos that I don’t feel about any other piece of fruit: greedy, possessive, sort of a theme and variation of “if you don’t get a sumo, then you don’t get me.”

That’s the thing. I always want to feed people and please people, and in the end it’s a big waste of time. And emotion.

I’m sure I’ll go back to the old eager beaver who wants everybody’s approval, but maybe not until sumo season is over.



Mary Marcus is the author of The New Me and her next book, Lavina, will be out later this year. You can stay up-to-date on Mary’s blog posts at her website.

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» Inside Look » Mary Marcus: Sumos
On January 27, 2015
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