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 Clement 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 vaguely cloying and given names such as “cutie” or “little darling” and tend shed their clothes too quickly– possibly the 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 a 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 specificallly clementine in nature, the following link is citrus related and made me extremely happy. Check it out if you have nothing better to do. See the opera-singing orange.

My (insert adjective of your choice here) Clementine 9 April,2008Michael Procopio

  • wendygee

    geez…Huckleberry Hound…what a flashback…and yes, I have been disappointed by the “Cuties” too…been really into the Cara Caras navels though…have you tried those?

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    Oh, god — the Carmen orange (I always thought it was a grapefruit) brings back such lovely, fun, sort of trippy memories.

  • shuna fish lydon

    When it comes to citrus, it’s impotant to know what you want and like in a fruit. Acidic? Pungent? Sweet? Juicy? Aromatic? Colorful?

    When Clementines come in boxes it tends to mean they’re coming from Spain. (Whole Foods, in fact, is being publicly criticized for not buying and selling local fruit, especially in California where over 80% of America’s fruit and vegetables are grown!)

    Before giving up on your Whole Foods bought Clementine, I beg of you to buy one from a local grower. My experience is that both the fruit and the rind are markedly different when the food is picked recently and locally!

    I grew up eating these boxed Clementines. They are a mere shadow of what a California grown Clementine tastes like!

  • Crunchy

    Forget the fruit. Do something cool with the zest. Surely, Michael, you can think of something stunningly original and shockingly tasty that uses the thing you liked most about those Clems. Or just twist a ribbon of zest in some vodka and forget the whole thing.

  • asherandeva

    But I am incredibly intrigued by the buttermilk pudding cake. Is this an original recipe or could I seek it out somewhere?

  • cucina testa rossa

    oh you beat me to it, i was going to write about my darling clementines (pun intended). i buy them by the case and pop ’em like candy. little bites of sunshine in the middle of the winter. love the carmen orange!

  • Anonymous

    Coments! Yay.

    Wendy– I am very fond of Cara Caras myself. I think it’s the acidity. I hope the flashback was good for you…

    Stephanie– Come on. Get real. A grapefruit? Grapefruits don’t sing opera, they sing show tunes.

    Shuna– Acid, definitely acid. For me, sweetness is only good if it is balanced by acidity, salt or both.

    The clementines, though in a box, came from Orange Cove. California. I had actually thought that these fruits might not have been that sweet, due to the inclement (no pun intended) weather and possible early picking. No such luck. I’ll give them another chance next year…

    “Crunchy”– Thank you for your generous faith in my culinary abilities. I have, in fact, used the zest in a vinaigrette (I get my acid one way or another) and even made a syrup to mix with grain alcohol.

    I really love your website, by the way. I hope Jason found a date with the help of your photos. If not, please give him my phone number.

    Asherandeva– Is this Asher calling or Eva? Or both? I make no secret of any recipe. I believe they are for sharing. If you are still interested, please email me and I will send you the information requested.

    CTR– I’m glad I beat someone to something for a change. Stephanie beat me to Bourbon and Branch. I beat you the the clementine punch. Tag, you’re it.


Michael Procopio

I am terribly fond of martinis, Edward Gorey, and sleeping with many pillows.
You are more than welcome to follow me on Twitter: @procopster

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