A well-loved tradition in my family, and a time-honored one in many families the world round, is the partaking of citrus during the holidays, specifically in my family those crate-bound, easily peelable miniature oranges. What are they called? Mandarins? Clementine's? Tangerines? Baby oranges? (as a kid, I could not have cared less what they were called: as long as they were juicy and easy to peel, my hands grabbed greedily orange orb after orange orb until my little fingers were sticky and my lips and cheeks stained and my belly full. A delightful part of my holiday experience.) As I’ve grown older and, I hope, wiser, my palate has grown a bit more refined, leaving me wanting a holiday fruit with a little more complexity. But first, where do those tasty crate-bound treats come from and how are they related to oranges?
Let’s see if we can’t break this down:
What often comes in crates and is eaten around the holiday are fruit known as Clementine's, members of the citrus family. The citrus family is easily recognizable from their thick outer skin – the rind – their segmented interiors, and their strong fragrance emanating from both the interior juice and the zest on the outside. Grapefruit, oranges, limes, and lemons are among the most popular citrus fruits, along with our old holiday friend the Clementine.
Clementine's are similar to oranges, though smaller, juicier, and easier to peel. The Clementine was first produced through accidental hybridization between the Mandarin and the sweet orange: hybridization in that it is a cross between two distinct fruits – the sweet orange and the Mandarin orange – and accidental in that the hybridization occurred without human intervention. Father Clement Rodier, the Clementine’s namesake, discovered an unknown fruit tree growing among the bushes in his orchard, and by grafting a cutting from the unknown tree onto an existing orange tree, the Clementine came to be.
Although the Clementine is often juicy and easy to peel, I have grown wary of buying the crates due to the seemingly increasing number of duds, or fruit not juicy or soft. What a let down, peeling back the skin and feeling the fruit, which should be soft, and finding it hard and juiceless.
For someone looking for more complexion of flavor in their holiday citrus, tired of disappointment in their Clementine crates, or just looking to try a new fruit, I suggest branching out to another soft, juicy citrus: the Satsuma.
About a month after starting here at the Concord Food Co-op, we in produce received a shipment of Satsuma mandarins – peeling back the skin, exposing the lush orange and white beneath, popping the first easily-separated section into my mouth, the juice burst forth onto my tongue so sweet as my teeth sank in: I was hooked.
Satsuma oranges, also known as Christmas oranges, are actually of the Mandarin variety, making these oranges a kind of step father to the Clementine. Just like the Clementine, Satsuma's are nearly seedless citrus, making it that much easier to eat. Taking their name from the Japanese Providence where the fruit was first exported to the West, Satsuma's are sweet and easy to peel, and are grown all over the world, including Florida, California, and Louisiana, and many parts of Asia. This holiday season, try a Satsuma. You never know, maybe it will be the start of a new, long-lasting tradition.
Thank you, and happy eating.