Thursday, October 22, 2015

Oh My Darling, Clementine 

Image via Julian Merrow-Smith

In my youth, the idea of eating a clementine before the first Sunday of Advent seemed not only impossible but heresy. I have no idea of the traditional harvesting of this fruit but they really only used to appear in stores late in November and be gone again by January. The fact that they usually came from North Africa - Morocco or Algeria, only added to their exotic nature and lent themselves perfectly to a Christmas narrative. The anachronistic wooden crates and stapled labels which looked like they were straight from the 1950s enhanced the specialness of clementines. I suppose I was indulging in some early fetishistic and infantile version of orientalism. By eating a clementine I might have been like a junior Marco Polo, glibly tossing away the peel of this golden fruit from a far away land as though it was so common for an explorer such as myself to eat such a fantastical thing. Like anything strongly associated with a particular holiday, the idea of it existing outside of that time of year has a certain absurdity to it. A Christmas tree in July seemed as crazy as wearing shorts while playing pond hockey. Inconceivable.

Of course, for years you’ve been able to get clementines almost anytime of year, regardless of the absurdity. It’s a perfectly reasonable snack. The flavour punch of citrus, the self-containment of the easy to remove peel, the seedless variety being so consumable and the small size of the fruit makes it perfect for kids. Small size is important for me. Like grapes, you could have one, two or handful and not worry about the rest of the batch spoiling. Modular food. Have as much or little as you like. Despite all of that going for clementines, I resisted buying them outside of November or December. Watermelon in the summer is special, in January it feels like, well, a melon. I felt the same for clementines.

Yet here we are, not even out of October when baseball playoffs are in full sprint, leaves have changed, Halloween costumes are being postulated (Donald Trump’s cap may be this year’s winner), pumpkin-spice flavouring is ruining every imaginable food and I’ve already finished my first net bag’s worth of clementines. First things first: net bags? Clementines should be sold in crates with a surprise mouldy lumpen mass found hidden amongst the rest, not in an un-recyclable mesh bag that looks like it belongs in a school gymnasium equipment room. Alright, so the bag works better and reveals any hidden putrid fruit, but where’s the charm? I guess the charm is you aren’t left with an unusable box with rusty staples sticking out.

I think I surrendered to this new age of clementines because I looked around and had a choice of South African oranges, mealy MacIntosh apples, organic Kiwi’s from New Zealand, Peruvian grapes and thought the clementine is a perfect alternative to all of that. Fresh, affordable, peel-able, portable and tasty. I gave in and tossed away my Christmas sentimentality and nostalgia for practical and nutritious. Also, I thought it might be a little crazy and borderline mental illness hanging on to a quaint childhood notion that one fruit must be reserved for two months of the year, not because of its cultivation but because my mom used to put clementines in our Christmas stocking as a treat.

If you think a tiny orange in a sock is a treat, maybe you are crazy.

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