My mother-in-law grew up in the dirty thirties, and whenever Christmas rolls around she trots out the old story about how one Christmas all she and each of her her ten siblings got was an orange. I don’t think she is unique in this regard; stories of folks giving and receiving an orange, or tangerine or clementine for Christmas are part of the lore surrounding the holiday. And from what I understand, it was a pretty magical gift in snowy New Brunswick during the Great Depression; exotica from another land, maybe California or Jaffa, a small miracle you can hold in your hand.
“An Orange for Christmas” does have a sort of magical ring to it. Perhaps that is why we still give and receive them. One theory is that since Christmas is associated with giving and sharing, an orange or tangerine or clementine is a perfect, small gift; you can break it apart into several equal segments which you can easily share. There is also the legend that Saint Nicholas himself dropped sacks of gold down the chimney of a man who needed a dowry to marry off his daughters. The gold filled the stockings that were hung by the fireplace to dry, and the golden orange fruit that fill Christmas stockings are said to represent these sacks of gold.
Of course getting one of these fruits is not a big deal for most folks these days, after all most of us have a fridge full of them on any given day. But the tradition of getting and giving a small wooden crate of tangerines or clementines continues to this day. There is something about those little crates with their tangerines, each wrapped in colourful tissue paper. In particular, the clementine is a wonderful fruit for baking, so many carry on the tradition by making and sharing a special savoury or sweet treat. Clementines, a hybrid of a manadarin orange and a regular sweet orange were first produced by Brother Clément Rodier, hence the name. Rodier was a missionary at an orphanage in Algeria in the late 19th /early 20th Century. Tending to the orchards at the orphanage he noticed a little uncultivated tree that had grown as a result of cross fertilization and took grafts from it. The fruit that the grafts bore was the clementine, named in his honour in 1902.
So this holiday season, you have lots of reasons to admire these brilliant little fruits. And it is even possible that you may end up with a surplus of them. If this is the case, why not start your own tradition and bake a delicious clementine tarte or cake to share with friends and family. Here is a recipe for a beautiful Clementine Meringue Pie with Olive Oil Crust that will be a hit on any holiday table. That would likely make Saint Nick-and Brother Clement- pretty happy!