Food Friday: Oh My Darling Clementine!


The Doctor Who Christmas special, Last Christmas, caused a lively debate here: what is the difference between Clementines and tangerines? Maybe we had a little too much vacation down time and togetherness, plus we were avoiding the inevitability and disappointment of dismantling the Christmas decorations. Still – inquiring minds want to know.

In Doctor Who, Santa’s trademark gift is a tangerine in every stocking; a sweet, juicy orange jewel, the symbol of innocence. The Doctor scoffs at that gesture, declaring, “Nobody likes tangerines!” I remember growing up that we did have oranges in our stockings a few times, but never consistently. And Santa never left oranges or tangerines for my children. (Especially this year when we forgot to leave him Christmas cookies and milk! Payback!) Instead he tucked small books, and dolls, and toys, and tiny boxes of Legos, and candy canes (gasp!), and other quiet diversions into their capacious stockings, which would temporarily distract and charm the early rising children, so that the poor beleaguered parents could sleep a wee bit longer.

It seems to me that I had oranges in my lunch quite a lot as a child. I know tangerines were substituted a few times, but tangerines had more seeds than most oranges, and so I registered a few complaints. Did you ever believe that swallowing watermelon seeds would eventually result in catastrophe? I think we swallowed them only when dared, and suffered no consequences, and otherwise tried to enjoy a legit opportunity for spitting. And that was only in the summertime, sitting on the back porch, with an available sibling sitting nearby. No seed spitting was tolerated in our school cafeteria. Alas.

We did not have Clementines when I was a child. I don’t know if they are more fashionable, or more readily available, but they seem ubiquitous now. Maybe they were exotic and hideously expensive in New England back in the day. The packaging is very appealing, so much more so than a plastic sack o’oranges. I’ll haul home a small crate of Clementines with the idea that I can recycle it, fill it with potting soil and use it to start spring and get a jump on my summer garden. That has never happened, but I can assure you that I enjoy the fantasy every time.

Both the tangerines and the Clementines are varietals of the mandarin orange, which is slightly smaller than a standard orange. Nutritionally tangerines and Clementines are very similar – a 100-gram tangerine has 53 calories and a 100-gram Clementine has 47. There is more Vitamin C and Potassium in a Clementine, but more Magnesium and Calcium in a tangerine. I think the Clementine tastes sweeter – more like an orange than the watery tangerine. But both are easy to peel. The Clementine is seedless, however, which gives it the advantage. I can remember trying to peel oranges, and how hard it seemed sometimes, even if my mother scored the peel with a knife before tossing it in my lunchbox.

So listen up Santa, could you make the Clementine your signature gift now? The Doctor will approve: sweeter, no seeds and very easy to peel. Perfect for Tardis travel.

(McDonald’s has jumped on the Clementine bandwagon, and will be offering Clementines in Happy Meals now, on a seasonal basis.!)

Here is a nifty sounding recipe for an orange cake. I need to rethink my whole approach to baking, and get some metric scales and so I can start to bake the Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood way. They are the professional cooks and judges on a delightful BBC import on PBS on Sunday nights, just before Downton Abbey: The Great British Baking Show. It is deeelightful! This is my new guilty pleasure. Butter, cream, chocolate, English accents, bad teeth and crazy baking. Everyone is sweet, and determined, and thoughtful of others as they compete to become the Best Amateur Baker in Britain. I have never watched TV reality shows, but this is just wonderful. I got this first recipe from Mary Berry:

Who would have thought of boiling a whole orange for an hour? We would have gone to the fridge and poured out some orange juice. But Mary is thrifty. She once commented that you should be economical, and save the leftover lemon wedge for a gin and tonic! Our kind of baker!

You can catch up on the first couple of episodes here:

Clementine Cake from Nigella:

“we went into a market—they call it a grocery—and you can’t imagine. fruit brilliant as magazine photos. all kinds of different oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, some tiny clementines with a blue sticker—Morocco—they’ve come so far…”

About Jean Sanders

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