Darling Clementine

Updated on 31 January 2011 | 0 Comments

Clementines became the Christmas orange of choice simply because they were sweet, exotically cute, available and at their best at this time of year

Precisely when the stuffing of the toe of Christmas stockings with miniature oranges began is hard to pinpoint. Like so many current British Christmas traditions, from sending cards and putting up trees to serving turkey and pulling crackers, the practice seems likely to have become entrenched during the Victorian era.

What we do know is that although a wide variety of citrus fruits had reached our shores by the 16th century the first mandarin oranges did not make their way here from China until 1805. The name mandarin - today applied generally to a wide variety of hybrids that produce small, easy to peel, orange-like fruit – originally came into English as nickname for the fruit via the Portuguese form of the Malay word for ‘counsellor’ - with etymologists postulating this was because the fruit’s colour was thought to match the robes of Chinese imperial civil servants.

 Whatever the reason for the name they most probably became the ‘Christmas orange’ of choice across Europe during the 19th century simply because they were sweet, exotically cute, available and at their best at this time of year.

The early ‘Common mandarins’ – most probably Ponkan, a pale variety with a mild flavour that’s still the mandarin grown most globally - that first made it into to our Christmas stockings gave way during the 20th century to the Clementine - named for Father Clément Rodier, who legend has it first grew it in the garden of his orphanage in Misserghin, Algeria in 1902.

Since then the Clementine has fought off competition from the Satsuma (the Japanese take on the mandarin developed in the 16th century) and the Tangerine (also known as the Mediterranean mandarin and named after Tangier in Morocco where it was first bred in the early 19th century) to remain the Christmas orange of choice.

Assuming you want to do something else with it other than slowly eating it segment by segment while opening your presents, placing each segment on your palm and pretending that you have giant hands, Clementines make a smashing seasonal sorbet and a rather fine jelly, whether you’re after something simple and comforting or rather arty and elaborate.     


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