Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Oh, My Darling Clementine
I have an addiction. I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth and I have to live with it. I've tried to do without and I just can't. I need to feed the beast at least twice, if not three times a day. Of course, there are times when I can't get a fix. On the street, at work, in the spring. That's right. My name is Laura, and I'm addicted to clementines. It started as most addictions do--in the 80's. I was in Spain with my family and I asked my grandmother for a glass of orange juice. She'd forgotten to pick some up, but handed me a tiny orange instead. I handed it back so she could peel it for me, but she said I'd be able to do this one myself. Even with my tiny fingers and short nails, the peel came off easily and the segments came apart with almost no effort at all. Each bright piece was the perfect sweet and juicy mouthful. I was hooked on the stuff.
For years I suffered in silence, always waiting for the next trip to visit my family so I could score. Then, in the summer of 1997 a terrible frost in Florida led to such a measly crop of citrus fruit that it actually became cheaper to import from Spain and Morocco. This led to the official arrival of of clementines in the US. They'd been around before of course, but never in such large numbers. They caught on with parents and children alike, and I now had a facilitator--the local grocery store. In the ensuing years, California citrus farmers would try to create their own clementines, but accidental cross pollination from neighboring bees led to crops with undesirable characteristics (and a lawsuit from several farmers). So, the majority of clementines in the US still come from Spain and Northern Africa, though with their growing popularity came increasingly higher prices.
Suffice it to say that the last few years worth of clementines have been sublime. So good, in fact, that I now eat at least 3 a day when they're in season (mid-November to January) and have to force myself not to eat an entire box in one sitting. I personally don't cook with them because I think they're so perfect on their own, but I will occasionally toss them into a salad with a simple vinaigrette and pomegranate seeds. It's really simple and the colors are lovely together. It's also a really impressive salad if you're entertaining.
Despite their seeming perfection, there are a few things to keep in mind when buying and eating clementines. The first is that when you lightly squeeze a clementine, you should feel some air between the peel and the flesh. If the rind is pulled tight, your clementine will be dry and hard to peel, so leave it in the fridge and move on to another one. If the segments do not come apart easily, or you encounter any seeds, then you have more than a bad piece of fruit--you have a faux clementine. You must immediately run to the supermarket, fruit firmly in hand, and throw it at your produce manager, because he's a dirty liar. Well, that's what I'd do, anyway. But that's probably just my addiction making me prone to violence. There's no recipe here today, I just thought I'd share my feelings on the lovely clementine to see if anyone else feels as strongly about them as I do. I'll be back in the kitchen with a soup recipe for you tomorrow!
And just in case you're unfamiliar with clementines, here's what a perfect one looks like on the inside: