Saturday should have been a day off from the festivities but I had to stock up for the weekend. Plus, by now, I was taking in so many calories a day that I kind of needed to keep going or else my body would begin to waiver for lack of nourishment. I picked up chicken, then some ingredients for a fabada, pork loin and some fish. Oh, yes, and some ground beef and potatoes for a cottage pie, which I erroneously called shepherd’s pie, but no one seemed to care.
On the slightly healthier side, I grabbed a bag of clementines because I like them and because the guy in the fruit section said I should.
“Because they’re good.”
“They seem good to me every year.”
“But especially good this year.”
That was fine by me. I was such an easily persuaded man.
If there is one kind of produce that’s available wide-scale in this country at this time of year, and costs a dime a dozen, its citrus fruit and, in particular, oranges, tangerines and clementines. Spanish oranges are universally famous, or at least they should be. If you don’t know this, now you do. They are traditionally grown in the eastern part of the country, in a region called Levante, which is a geographical strip of land along the Mediterranean coast. It gets its name from “levar” which means “to rise” and refers to the sun coming up – i.e. the East. The climate is mild and humid making it ideal for this genus of fruit.
Tangerines are known as mandarinas in Spain, meaning different country disagree on their origin. In English we award Tangiers with the honor, while the Spanish attribute their existence to the Mandarin Chinese. Different cultures, same fruit. Tangerines are abundant at this time and sweet but generally have a thinner skin which is not always easy to peel. Clementines are a version of tangerine and its rind nearly breaks off from the fruit at the touch, and as a rule, is seedless. They are also genrally more succulent and cost a little more.
Although not many people can say exactly why, this threesome is inextricably associated with the yuletide, especially in the department of stocking stuffing. Getting a large sock filled with goodies was once the extent of your treasures for the holidays, and a yearly mainstay was a piece of golden fruit. “Gold” here, seems to be the key mineral. One tradition has it that Saint Nicholas would bring golden balls and leave them in the stockings, and given the obvious lack of prime material to fulfill such a promise, people would substitute them with fruity orbs of a similar color…as a symbolic gesture, you see. There certainly may be some truth to that, but I can’t help thinking that the fact this fruit reaches the height of its harvest in November and December and was probably not widely available in northern European countries a long time ago, somehow made it a kind of delicacy back yonder in time. A symbol and a special treat all at once.
Orange production is still big business here in Spain. This country comes in at around 6th in overall world production in terms of total kilos, and makes up half of all the 27 European nations produce together. The Spanish are also important consumers.
The United States, on the other hand, out-picks Spain by more than two to one, but is only 6th on the list of consumers.
In the tangerine/clementine category, China blows away the competition, giving credence to the Spanish belief that the oriental nation really is the home of the fruit, with annual production of about 10 million metric tons. In 2012, it actually boxed 13,600,000. A metric ton equals 1,000 kilos, to give you an idea of the quantity we are talking about. Then, if you multiply it further by 2.2, you get the astronomical figure of about 29,920,000,000lbs of tangerines. Spain is runner up, but a distant second, I’ll have you know. Its output is around 1,800,000MT, which is a respectable volume all said and told. That partially explains why you find so many crates of Spanish clementines at the supermarkets in the U.S. at this time of year.
I did my part of reducing the surplus population of citric fruit and picked up two kilos of clementines, as the guy at the grocery store suggested. The good thing about clementines is that they go down so easily. Before the day was out, my daughter and I had erased a kilo and a half. I wasn’t sure if this was healthy anymore.