Thursday, January 25, 2007

My (insert adjective of your choice here) Clementine

I wandered into the Whole Foods Market on California and Franklin the other day where I was greeted by giant stacks of citrus. The clementines caught my eye, which was quite easily done due to the sheer volume of the little fruits-- boxes upon boxes of them.

I love tangerines, so I grabbed a box. Ideas kept popping into my head as to how I would use them. Sliced up and drizzled with olive oil, tossed with salt and toasted walnuts, made into pudding, squeezed for juice in the morning and, of course, eaten right out of my hand. Vinaigrettes, granitas, dipped in chocolate and crushed salty cashews. I planned on being one busy fellow in the kitchen.

When I got them home, I grabbed one out of the box, peeled off the skin and popped a segment into my mouth. I turned my back to the other surviving clementines, not wanting them to witness the disappointment that had immediately registered on my face. What I had just eaten tasted flabby and rather anemic. Then I remembered something fairly significant in terms of citrus purchasing:

Wasn't there a terrible cold snap a couple of weeks ago?

I went online to look up the what happened to the California citrus harvest this year. Nearly three-quarters of our state's citrus crops were destroyed when temperatures dipped into the 20's about two weeks ago. This year has not been good to citrus farmers. I was, however, glad that I had paid my $7.99 as some sort of support. I then realized that I had given Whole Foods Market my money and wondered how much of that actually went to the farmers. Whatever the answer, I thought I should go and make the best of my clementines.

I grabbed another clementine. It felt heavy in my hand for its size, as all good citrus should. It was sweet and juicy and unyielding. The first fruit I peeled must have been an anomaly. I decided to go ahead with my first recipe.

There is a buttermilk pudding cake I love to make once or twice a year when meyer lemons are good. I thought I might see how one made with clementines would turn out. There is a very good reason the recipe calls for lemons-- they are, by nature, tart and high in acid-- things critical to the success of the recipe. Clementines, on the other hand, are very sweet and low in acidity-- something I chose to ignore when preparing the dessert. I was so intoxicated by the smell of fruit's rind, which I kept scratching with my fingernail, that I thought enough zest would somehow make the alteration in the recipe work. Sadly, I was wrong. Sadly? Not really. I learned something about why certain foods work in specific situations and why others do not. It wasn't a total wash out. Besides, it at least looked good. Remind me to share the lemon recipe with you one of these days.

As I mentioned earlier, I love tangerines. I automatically assumed clementines were a type of tangerine. I was wrong again. While both are members of the Citrus reticulata species, the clementine owes its existence to the cross breeding of the sweet orange and Chinese mandarin and its name to the man who first accidentally bred them at an Algerian orphanage in 1902, Father Clément Rodier. Tangerines, if you hadn't guessed, got their name from the Moroccan port city of Tangiers-- the source of import for most of Europe's supply of the fruit. I suppose citrus growers should be grateful that Pere Clement had a catchy name, otherwise, they might today be growing algerines. Not quite the same market appeal as "clementines", to be certain.

I went back to the market to buy a tangerine so I might taste it side-by-side with a clementine. The clementine tasted dull when compared to the sweet-tart flavor of the tangerine. Tangerines have sass. Clementines are blandyly sweet and tend shed their clothes too quickly-- maybe they type of fruit appropriate for a one night stand. Tangerines, at least, make me want to come back for more. The fate of the clementine-- at least its role in my life-- was sealed. A few lines of that song made so popular by Huckleberry Hound popped into my head:

How I missed her, How I missed her
How I missed my Clementine
Till I kissed her little sister
And forgot my Clementine.

I'm going back to tangerines. Dreadful sorry, Clementine.

Though not specific to clementines, this link is citrus-related and makes me rather happy. Please see the singing orange... thank you.

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