For me, eating tiny oranges is an integral part of the Christmas season. So, a few weeks back, when my editor said to me, “Bill, why don’t you write a post about clementines?” I responded, “Sure. What are clementines?”
“They’re the tiny oranges people eat at Christmastime,” she said.
“I thought those were satsumas.”
“They’re similar, but different. Look it up.”
So I did. And here is what I found.
THE ORIGIN OF THE CLEMENTINE
A hybrid of a mandarin and an orange, clementines are usually seedless and have a sweet flavor and fragrant aroma. While similar to a satsuma, clementines tend to be rounder with thinner, tighter skins.
Accounts differ on the origins of the clementine. The most accepted version, at least by the sites I checked, dates the clementine to the early 20th century, when a priest named Clément Rodier came across the fruit, an example of accidental hybridization, in his Algerian garden. Another version holds that the clementine was an intentional hybrid created by a different Algerian priest, Father Pierre Clément. Others say the clementine originated in China much earlier, citing its similarity to the mandarin orange as evidence of this.
Cultivated throughout North Africa and the Mediterranean, clementines have been grown commercially in the U.S. since the First World War, becoming more popular over the last couple decades.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION (IT’S OK TO SKIP THIS PART)
Containing no saturated fat, sodium or cholesterol, clementines are also a good source of vitamin C (huge surprise, that). Eating one will supply about 60 percent of an adult man’s RDA. Eating one will also supply roughly 35 calories. I can honestly say I don’t know if that’s a little or a lot, given the relatively small size of the fruit. Although clementines contain lesser amounts of other nutrients, such as iron, calcium and potassium, I suppose you could make up for that lack by eating scads of them.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE CLEMENTINES
They should be orange. I’ve also read they should be shiny, wrinkle-free, and soft, but as they’re generally sold in mesh bags, which are often placed redundantly in little boxes, “orange” seems the most relevant criterion.
Clementines should keep for four or five days if stored at room temperature. A dry environment is best for clementines; they can mold quickly if exposed to moisture. Refrigerated, they should last for a couple weeks. As they have a very strong odor, it’s best to store them away from foods such as butter and milk, unless you like your dairy with a hint of citrus.
Their compact size and ease of peelability (It’s a word. I looked it up.) make the clementine ideal as a snack food. And until quite recently (last weekend, actually), that’s how I ate them, taking pains to remove the peel in a single, continuous piece. I was a bit surprised, therefore, at the gamut of clementine recipes, including cocktails, salads, entrées and desserts, available online.
As I eschew the frou-frou when it comes to alcohol, sticking to such manly drinks as beer, bourbon and Singapore Slings, and I don’t bake, I went the salad and entrée route for my initial exploration of the clementine as more than a nosh.
For the former, I assembled a clementine, olive and endive salad from a recipe I found on epicurious. com.
And for the latter, I chose a roasted chicken recipe from Alexandra Cooks (which in turn was taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook).
Both turned out quite well, and were so simple to prepare that even I could make them with ease. And if you need a movie to watch while eating these dishes, may I suggest John Ford’s classic 1946 western My Darling Clementine, starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp? It pairs well with both salad and entrée.
That’s my foray into the larger clementine universe. Have any of you, particularly the mixologists and bakers, expanded the boundaries of the fruit? What was the result?
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