In the dead of winter, orange you glad for clementines?
November 27th, 2012
09:30 AM ET
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Here in the cold, dark, horrible nub end months of the year, I jam clementines into my mouth like it's my job. Two, four, six at a sitting, I'll dig the edge of my least-ragged nail into the rind and claw away the loose skin to reveal the dewy, seedless segments inside. Rinds pile up in pungent heaps on every flat surface around me - exoskeletons shed by sweet-blooded alien insects that have come to Earth to lift me from my seasonal funk.

I'd stop and take them to a trash bin, but that would mean precious seconds not spent stuffing oranges into my face in the manner of a crazed bonobo. I will set upon a cheap, plywood crate or red net sack full of clementines and dispatch quarters, thirds, halves at a time until there is nothing left but a fine mist of citrus oil coating all nearby surfaces like a cheery arterial spray.

I am certain it is horrifying to watch, and it is in the best interest of all my personal and professional relationships that these little fruits are only available for a brief period each winter.

These "clementine" oranges are named for Father Clement Rodier, who some say accidentally bred the mandarin hybrid in the garden of his Algerian orphanage in 1902. Others maintain that they emerged in China a goodly chunk of time before that.

According to the late citrus scholar Robert Willard Hodgson, clementines were then introduced into the United States in 1909 and brought to California from Florida in 1914 by H. S. Fawcett of the Citrus Research Center, Riverside. He noted also that the 1914-15 catalogue of the Fancher Creek Nurseries of Fresno, California, mentioned "a new early mandarin from Algeria which later proved to be indistinguishable from clementine."

They could have developed in an opulent palazzo, outer space, or an outhouse for all I care. What matters to me is that California and various countries in Europe (especially Spain) and North Africa (notably Morocco) start shipping out crates of these sweet, easy-peeling oranges in perfect coincidence with my annual descent into winter blues, and I could not be more grateful.

Yes, technically they're available in many grocery stores year 'round, but that's just a cruel tease. Try biting into a clem before roughly the onset of Daylight Saving Time, and you'll end up with a puss full of pucker. Peel one around Valentine's Day and you might as well be gnawing into the carton in which it came. Flavor-wise it's a waiting game, and it's worth it - both for its sweet burst of liquid sunshine, and for what that does to my psyche.

Empirically, I know that citrus is at its peak in the late fall and into winter, but the Sunkist marketing of my youth seems to have burned beach volleyball, blue skies and eternal summer into the same brain cells as those containing all my memories of eating and drinking oranges. I can live with that, so long as the act of peeling open a clementine (ideally in one piece - it's a snack and a game all in one!) offers me a brief respite from being plunged into grey gloom at four o'clock in the afternoon.

Or it could be the Vitamin C which veritably drips from clementines, and is thought to help lift depression (not to mention scurvy, dysentery, boil-producing skin infections and other dread pirate diseases). Mostly, I just know that somehow, it works - that with each fragrant rind piled up on the table, I'm peeling away the darkness and letting a little sun splash in.

Got a food you eat obsessively in the colder months? Please share it in the comments below.

Previously - How to eat fruit at the peak of ripeness and Going public with depression

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Marlou

    It seems that the skins are harder to peel than Clems of years gone by. I remember all it took was two – three peelings and you had the beautiful citrus to eat. I just bought a box of Little Darlings at BJ's. Hope these are sweet.

    November 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
  2. jj

    Oh, my darling Clementine

    November 28, 2012 at 5:01 pm |
  3. elvinmerij

    Trash bin? Here in Canada we compost those suckers (rinds).

    November 28, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  4. Liz

    We are right there with you! Clementines are survival winter fruit in our household!

    November 27, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  5. xavi

    I prefer little oranges to Mandarin oranges to Clementines.

    November 27, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  6. Mitchell Owens

    Actually, she was living in Germany, it seems ... as a blog notes ... "M.F.K. Fisher wrote a lovely little story about one of her “secret indulgences,” published in “Serve it Forth”; while waiting for her first husband, Al, to come back to their flat by the Rhine, she placed sections of tangerines on newspaper atop the radiator for hours and then came back: “On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow of the sill. They are ready,” she wrote."

    November 27, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  7. Mitchell Owens

    MFK Fisher once wrote of peeling clementines and placing the wedges on a tray on a radiator and heating them until they crisp up on the outside ... then toss them out a window onto a snow-covered section of roof (she was living in France at the time, in the 1920s or 30s). She then gathered them up and began eating them one at a time ... she said the cold crisped skin cracked like lacquer and made a perfect complement to the heated juices.

    November 27, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  8. Tiffany

    Someone who gets it! :-) They're at their best right now. I just wish they had a longer shelf life, the small crates full of them tend to go bad quickly, it seems.

    November 27, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      My husband just brought home a bag and apologized for how tiny they were. Pretty much the sweetest , juiciest ones I've ever had.

      November 27, 2012 at 11:15 am |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


        November 27, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
        • M T Nest

          I'm so glad I wasn't taking a drink when I read that! :)

          November 27, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  9. ellemeesh

    I have been eating oranges daily since they have been coming in well. so I know what you mean. Good stuff. Love the blog.

    November 27, 2012 at 2:51 am |
  10. Scott

    I came as a surprise to me that one can freeze watermelon slices and have them as a real treat in the winter. It's like a little piece of heaven.

    November 27, 2012 at 2:47 am |
    • goatsandgreens

      Scott, thanks for the watermelon tip!

      November 27, 2012 at 8:29 am |
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