Sampling citrus for his stocking

December 10, 2008|By Rob Kasper | Rob Kasper,

For some of us, it is not Christmas morning without a tangerine in our stocking. The trouble is that nowadays choosing seasonal citrus, like many parts of the holiday, has become more complicated.

In addition to the traditional tangerine, with its seeds and pulp, there are orange orbs called clementines, grown both overseas and in the U.S.A., plus a variety of tangerine, the Satsuma, that does not have seeds.

What is a kid, or a fogey like me, supposed to peel and enjoy on the big day?

To find out, I prowled the produce aisles of various area supermarkets, searching for tangerines and their kin. I found five different types. I am a long way from being a botanist, but after reading several scientific discussions on the distinctions among the fruits, I came up with this short-handed explanation. A clementine is a variety of mandarin, as is a tangerine. But a clementine is not a tangerine.

I also read that whatever the variety, these fruits should have shiny skin, feel heavy in your hand and smell good.

I brought my five "Christmas fruits" home, measured their diameter, assessed their aroma and their "peelability," noted the presence or absence of seed and evaluated their sweetness, and finally their Christmas-morning quotient. That last factor would be how much they reminded me of my childhood.

My favorite was the Sunburst tangerine, an orb that was the "fat boy" of the tasting, measuring more than 3 inches in diameter. It had good sweetness. I also liked its aroma and the seeds. Its Christmas-morning quotient was outta sight.

I brought all five varieties in to The Baltimore Sun and let my colleagues taste and rate them.

None of them liked my favorite, the Sunburst. Instead, they preferred the "Darling Clementines" from Spain, followed closely by the clementines from California. A few "juicers" liked the Satsuma tangerine, a seedless variety from Florida.

After sulking, I came up with several possible explanations of why my tangerine did not meet with wider approval. One is that the particular tangerine I ate at home was much juicier than the drier ones I brought to the office. The sweetness of tangerines does vary from orb to orb. That is life; sometimes it is sweet, sometimes bitter, even on Christmas morning.

The other explanation is that anyone who doesn't love true, seedy, tangerines had an unhappy childhood.

five fruits we tasted

"Darling Clementines" from Spain

$7.99 for a 5-pound box at Super Fresh

This was the favorite of the group tasting. I rated it third. Small, 2 inches in diameter, with no seeds, good aroma, easy peeling and average sweetness.

Sunburst tangerines

$1.99 a pound at Wegmans

The "fat boy" of the tasting, this traditional tangerine measured a little more than 3 inches in diameter. I found this fruit, which was loaded with aroma and seeds, bursting with flavor and Christmas memories. The group found it dry and lacking.

Cuties California clementines

$5.99 for a 3-pound bag at Whole Foods

The runner-up in the group tasting, these 1 3/4 -inch orbs had no seeds and average aroma - and were decorated with stickers reading "Kiss a Cutie" and the like.

Satsuma tangerines

$1.27 a pound at Whole Foods

These were very juicy and, with the tree leaves still attached to the fruit, had the most "natural" look. A little less than 3 inches in diameter, they were my second favorite.

Uncle Matt's organic Florida tangerines

3-pound bag for $3.99 at Wegmans

Somewhat difficult to peel, these 2 1/2 -inch-in-diameter tangerines had good aroma and juice and a few seeds, but lacked sweetness.

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