There are two small, sweet treats on my desk right now, and I predict that they won't make it to lunch break. I can't resist; I end up downing dozens every holiday season. But that's not so bad, since unlike cookies and candy, clementines are fat-free and full of vitamin C (though I suppose their naturally high sugar content could be a drawback).
Clementines, a mandarin hybrid also called Algerian tangerines, came to the United States a century ago, and have become increasingly popular in the past two decades. Most of the seedless clementines in American supermarkets are grown in Spain and Morocco, and demand is expected to stay strong—one agricultural forecast calls clementines "a bright spot" in the global citrus market for 2010.
They're a bright spot in my year, too. Since clementines are in season from late fall through midwinter, I tend to associate them with the holidays. At Thanksgiving, they're the simplest of appetizers; in the following days, they're the perfect light dessert as you're paying penance for all the pie. On Christmas morning, my brother and I would snack on clementines while opening our stockings—which sometimes contained more clementines, tucked into the toes where little else would fit. And now, in a winter-dimmed basement apartment, a glass fruit bowl piled with these orange gems is as cheering as the lights on the Christmas tree.
Their appeal, beyond aesthetics, is efficiency: A few swipes of a thumbnail is all it takes to open a clementine's orange wrapping, which falls away easily, more like a banana peel than the jealous rinds of other citrus fruits. The segments separate cleanly, and best of all, they're seedless. Eating an orange is a project, but a clementine can be an impulse, less than 10 seconds from hand to mouth. Maybe that's why I think of them as candy.
In theory, you can cook with clementines—there are tempting recipes online for everything from salsa to scones. But of course, that would require not eating all of the main ingredient as you peel it, and I haven't mastered that trick quite yet. In fact...those two clementines on my desk seem to have disappeared while I was writing. Dreadful sorry...