As a child, I never found another sensation quite like the satisfaction of perfectly peeling a Mandarin orange. Its totality made me feel oddly accomplished, neat, and mature. I wasn’t making a mess like all the other kids; I could shed my lunchtime snack’s skin like a pro and dispose of it in one long, spindling piece. The weeks in which my mother forgot to pick up that beloved netted bag tortured me as I watched my classmates peel and peel, while I had no other option but to watch. Even at twenty, I still find pleasure when taking apart the popular lunchtime fruit.
(Of course, as I write this I peel my mandarin’s skin into four infuriating pieces.)
Many find the mandarin to be the younger cousin, the inferior to the classic orange. However, it should be noted that oranges are actually a hybrid of mandarins and pomelos (a South Asian citrus fruit, similar to a grapefruit). It is used in traditional medicine across the globe, most commonly in Asia. Its peel and juice are seen to have therapeutic properties and are used to treat many ailments from insomnia to abdominal pain. It is also used internationally as a staple of the Christmas season.
Clearly Mandarin oranges are important to more than elementary school students.
The mandarin I have is small, even for this miniature fruit. Its shrunken size makes it more firm, more durable. The smell is faint, and the scent of consumerism is stronger than the light citrus emanating from one side. The other side has been entirely overwhelmed by the dusty shelves and heavily-populated air of a grocery store.
Its color is light with hints of yellow in certain places. The skin is smoother than it should be, giving hint that this particular fruit is likely not quite ripe yet. Mandarins tend to flourish during winter, so as summer approaches farmers are shedding the last of their poorly-timed crop. Go ahead and expect prices to jump come November.
Finally I open the mandarin. More indication that it is not entirely ripe is that I had to struggle to pull the small pieces apart – warning, squeezing a mandarin too hard can cause its harsh citrine juice to fly across the room. However, this struggle was entirely worth it once I took a slice and slid it into my mouth.
The particular fruit I had was more sour than normal, but I wasn’t bothered. It still had enough sweetness that a rush of grade school memories flooded my mind – even that painful sting that always accompanies the citrus fruits we love.
Perhaps this isn’t the best mandarin I’ve ever had, but I cannot say it was bad, not at all. It needed a bit more time to sit and ruminate, but it was still delicious, even prematurely. Despite everything, its addictive taste left me wanting more.