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As all seven of my regular readers know, there isn’t much I like about winter. In fact, there’s nothing that could ever make me think of winter as being better than any other season. If a supermodel showed up at my front door on the first cold day of the season with a suitcase full of gold coins, a writing contract, and a nice, juicy medium rare ribeye, I’d simply ask: “Did you bring a space heater?”

Still, there are a few things I look forward to during the season. Let me think … yeah, just a few. Valentine’s Day? Nah, not really. There’s chocolate, I’ll give you that.

Christmas? Yeah, it’s up on the list. I love Christmas music – don’t tell anybody – although not as much as I love healthy, life affirming, well-balanced seasonal meals like fudge with chocolate candy and chocolate chip cookies on the side, with hot chocolate to drink. You know – winter health food.

Ah, but on the subject of food there’s one non-chocolate treat …

Wait. For you to understand this, first I need to tell you a story.

When I was very young, we didn’t have the fresh food distribution or storage capabilities that we do these days. As a kid I was okay with that, because Nutty Bars keep practically forever, but seasonal fruits and vegetables were pretty much – seasonal. These days I see little watermelons at a grocery store in the off season, and I actually stop to marvel at them. Watermelon! And it’s not summer! It amazes me.

Yeah, okay, so I’m showing my age. The point is, in the late 60’s and early 70’s fresh, off-season fruits and vegetables weren’t all that common, and would have been too expensive to buy anyway.

On the last day of school before Christmas break, as we got off the bus, the driver would hand each one of us a little paper bag. He’d wish us a Merry Christmas – are they allowed to do that anymore? – and we’d run inside and open our treat bag. There was a candy cane, of course, but I never cared much for those. There were other kinds of candy, and I was okay with that, but not terribly excited unless it was something chocolate.

And there was a huge orange – big as my head.

Well, it seemed that big, at least.

On Christmas morning, there would be another one in our stockings. I’m sure we had citrus more often than that, but the only ones I recall well were those two at Christmas time, huge oranges with thick skins, which we’d peel open with a thrill of anticipation. It was like candy, seriously. I’d separate the sections, and eat each one in little bites to keep them going, before downing the last one and chewing on it for half an hour. Okay, a little ick factor there.

It sounds silly, I suppose, but my family wasn’t into overdoing things. A bottle of Pepsi was also a treat for me, because I’d get maybe one a week. So a big expensive orange wasn’t an everyday thing, and there was something about that bright orange – um – orange, that lit up my life during the darkest days of winter.

Fast forward some four decades.

Wow, did I just say that?

You can get fresh fruits and vegetables all year long now. But the quality and cost varies, and there’s still something about that big winter citrus.

One night recently I was collecting paperwork for an upcoming Town Council Meeting, when my eyes caught a notice from the Albion Lions Club.

“This year the Albion Lions will be holding their annual Christmas Citrus Sales on two Fridays, December 4th and 11th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and three Saturdays, November 28th and December 5th and 12th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Citrus sales will take place at the stoplight in Albion.”

I squealed. I jumped up and down. I did a little Snoopy dance right there at the municipal building, and I can only be thankful that I happened to stop by after office hours.

This is what I look forward to every winter, the one thing besides Christmas that can push the blues away for a little while. Oranges and grapefruit, $14 for a twenty pound case. Heaven in a peel. I’ve been exercising my peeling muscles and polishing my grapefruit knives in anticipation. By the way, I have a set of grapefruit knives and spoons, custom made with my initials on them.

Oh, sure, it’s a fund raiser that the Lions Club uses to fund their many community service projects in the area, I know that. Those folks stand up there at the stoplight, in the cold wind and driving snow (and this is northern Indiana, so don’t you doubt that part), and pass out a healthy treat that funds great things for the community.

But to me it’s all about the citrus, baby. When it comes to food I’m easy to please, but what usually pleases me is junk in its myriad sugary forms. This is my healthy candy, and the more of it, the better. I love the smell of citrus in the morning; it smells like vitamin C. (You younger people, have a war movie fan explain that to you.)

In fact, maybe I’d better go take those dates out of this column, so nobody here knows when they’re being delivered. I don’t want them to run out before I’ve stocked up.

But first I’m going to bring down the Christmas stockings and polish the grapefruit tools.

Editor’s Note: We printed his original version, with the dates. Ha.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2009 07:50 am (UTC)
It's exactly the same for me. Having spent my youth behind the iron courtain in a family also not into overdoing things, the only time we got oranges was in Christmas stockings.
To this day, the smell of oranges means Christmas to me.
Weird, huh?
Nov. 27th, 2009 08:40 am (UTC)
Not weird to me! I know exactly what you mean ... although in your situation such shortages were surely worse than anything I ever faced.
Nov. 27th, 2009 09:15 am (UTC)
Nods. We used to get a paper bag from the Church School that had some hard candy, a few nuts and an orange and an apple.
Nov. 27th, 2009 10:28 am (UTC)
The nuts! I forgot the nuts. That sounds like exactly the same thing.
Nov. 27th, 2009 12:23 pm (UTC)
Always at the toe of the stocking (one of my father's grey police socks) there was an orange, some nuts and a shiny coin. Usually a sixpence, but riches to me.

And guess what? My daughters, aged 18 and 22 (did I just write that? Aaargh) will expect stockings on Christmas morning. And at the bottom will be an orange, some nuts and a shiny coin.

Some things are classic.

Have you ever tried making candied citrus? Worth the experiment if only because it combines two essential food groups.

Nice article, Mark.
Nov. 28th, 2009 08:04 am (UTC)
I had a collection of fifty cent pieces when I was a kid -- I wonder if that's where they came from? Can't remember now, but I do recall the nuts, along with the oranges and candy canes. My daughters are 18 and 25 -- and they still expect stockings, too! I love having traditionalist kids.

I haven't made candied citrus myself, but I've tasted it -- delicious.

Nov. 27th, 2009 05:30 pm (UTC)
hehe that's awesome. It's important to keep those traditions, really does bring the Christmas spirit home. I'm more of a mandarin person than an orange person myself. Those big boates always make such a mess!

(hah love your icon)

Edited at 2009-11-27 05:32 pm (UTC)
Nov. 28th, 2009 08:06 am (UTC)
I used to search through and try to pick out the most perfect icon, although I've gotten more lazy about it these days. But as long as we've got citrus of some kind, everything else is okay! :-)
Nov. 27th, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
Oranges in the toe of the Christmas stocking! Yep, I remember those. I prefer tangerines myself - and tangelos, those are my favorites. But I'm with you, citrus is a Christmas thing.
Nov. 28th, 2009 08:01 am (UTC)
I love tangerines and tangelos -- I wonder why I don't eat them anymore? Just got out of the habit, I guess, but since I have to cut down on cholesterol now might be the time to get back in.
Nov. 28th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC)
You make me feel a little bit... ashamed of myself. Oranges and other fruits were common weekly grocery items for me growing up; stockings were stuffed with Glamour Gals and Sea Wees, and then later with lipsticks and moisturizers. I've never looked at an orange as a treat before and I'm feeling like a spoiled brat right now.
Nov. 28th, 2009 08:10 am (UTC)
Well, you're more than a decade younger than me -- and you live further south, don't you? In both cases, oranges aren't nearly as much of a treat as they were for me back then. But what are Glamour Gals and Sea Wees?
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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