Oranges and Tangerines

These sweet citrus fruits are described exhaustively by Tony Tantillo. I was going to do some research and write a whole article here a la my Red Velvet Cake investigation, but Tony's already done the hard work. (Unless he's cribbing some uncredited reference...)

In any case, the important thing today is the Clementine. Clementines (Algerian tangerines, if you like to be redundant) are a cross between a Mandarin and a Seville orange. They are small, usually seedless with an intense sweetness and delicate texture. Most are imported from North Africa and Spain. Like Mandarins, they are easy to peel and divide by hand and you don't get your hands all sticky dealing with them. Along with spice cookies and chocolate, they are emblematic of the gifts given to good children of the Netherlands on Sint-Niklaas Day.

Nicholas was a Bishop of Myra, in Fourth Century Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He is the patron of gift-givers (as well as sailors, pawn-brokers and brewers). According to the Dutch story he arrives each year on the night before his feast day (December 6) by steamship via Spain to the port of Antwerpen. He is accompanied by his young assistants, Zwarte-Pieten (Black Petes) who used to be African slaves, but modern theory has it that he is one normal (white) boy who has gotten covered in soot from sleeping by the fireplace. Not sure which is better. Anyway, Sint and Piet(en) embark from their steamer and ride across the lowlands filling up the shoes of good little children with gifts. Among these, of course, are the clementines, chocolates, and speculoos (spice cookies) recalling the biggest-ticket colonial imports (which took basically the same route with the same help).

Of course, Sint-Niklaas or Sinterklaas became, in Niewe Amsterdam, Santa Claus - and the rest is history. Happy Feestdagen!

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