Ravings of a Canadian Expat: Christmas Oranges

I was going to start this entry out with something like “This time of year, the topics of discussion in groups of Canadians living away tends to turn to food…”… but let’s be real, at least 80% of what we talk about in Canadian groups is food.

Foods we miss, foods we’re now cooking because we miss the source material, how COMPLETELY inferior American chocolate is, griping about how corn syrup is in everything here and makes stuff – soda, certain candies, etc – taste weird, etc. I don’t remember us being particularly food obsessed when I still lived at home, but man… take a Canadian out of Canada, and food is the great bonding experience.

Recently, I noticed that “Christmas Oranges” don’t really seem to be a THING in Minneapolis. Like, you can buy Cuties or Halos, but there doesn’t seem to be a culture of … well, them being particularly “holiday”.

When I was a kid, we’d get one in the toe of our Christmas stocking, and it usually ended up being my favourite part. I LOVED them!

As I grew a bit older, holiday season meant buying crates of Mandarin oranges. They were the same oranges I’d have as a kid – sold in boxes, imported from either China or Japan, and individually wrapped in green paper. There was always at least one completely moldy one in the bottom, but the rest were *gold*.

I would buy several 5lb cases at a time. At least one would end up consumed within a day or two – I’d crash on the couch with a book, and snarf ungodly amounts of oranges. I’d buy more than one case, as it was usually insanely cold (I’m from Winnipeg), and I liked to have enough to last me a week or so.

… December is the month where I am least likely to come down with scurvy… By a longshot! In addition to snarfing oranges by the case, I also enjoy to make things from them, such as:

Candied Orange Peels

Cuties Mead

Cranberry-Cuties “Christmas” Wine

Cuties Marmalade

I even juiced and zested a bunch of them to make a Cuties mousse last New Years.. Oh, it was amazing.

Anyway, I digress.

This past week, I decided that I NEED THOSE ORANGES. Cuties and Halos just don’t cut it, I wanted a bit of *home*.

My first stop was a group for local food bloggers. I explained what I was looking for, and a few people weighed in with suggestions.

I should mention that part of the problem with looking for oranges like I knew back home, is that when it comes to this sort of thing, oranges suffer from the same sort of thing that Sweet potatoes / yams do. Different products are sold as the same thing, the terms are used interchangeably, and people have wildly different ideas of what is meant when you say “yam” – and, in this case, “Mandarin orange”.

One blogger commented to say that it sounded like I was describing Satsuma oranges, and that she knew they sell them at a local coop. She then mentioned that they’re more abundant in January (not the case, back home!) – so I had to make sure that she wasn’t thinking SUMO oranges (another addiction of mine). She wasn’t, so I called The Wedge coop, and grilled their produce guy.

HE agreed that I was talking about Satsumas, but then referred to them as being “more tart”. What a let down – I never would have described Christmas oranges as being tart!

I posted a quick note about my mission to a couple expat groups, and asked for info on what they remember of the oranges back home.

I got in my truck and headed over there anyway, because when you need a mess of oranges, you NEED a mess of oranges. I was surprised to see that they had several types of oranges that looked good… so I bought a few of each. I bought a whole bag of Satsumas – I know myself, and if they were even close… a bag wouldn’t be enough!

As all of this was going down, the threads were blowing up – Us Canadians are VERY passionate about our Christmas oranges, as it turns out!

As it also turns out, the whole “oranges going by multiple names” thing got further complicated by regional differences in what constitutes a “Christmas Orange”.

People from everywhere except Atlantic Canada agreed – sold in boxes, with almost everyone specifically referencing the green tissue paper. MOST people agreed that they were imported from China and Japan, though a few pockets of Canadians apparently got theirs from Morocco! I’m 90% sure I’ve never seen an orange from Morocco, so I found this fascinating. We all knew them as “mandarins”.

On the East Coast, “Christmas Oranges” are sold in smaller, wooden crates, usually with a red plastic mesh holding them in. There is no green tissue paper, and they are known as “Clementines” – not Mandarins. From my time in Newfoundland, I was familiar with them. They were definitely different from what I knew back home: A bit harder to peel, not as juicy, smaller, and rounder. Still tasty, though!

Anyway, back to the mission.

I noticed that all of the oranges at The Wedge were from either California or Florida, and I remembered that basically all of the oranges I’d seen anywhere in Minneapolis tended to be the same. I guess there isn’t a big market for imported oranges here?

I decided to follow up on another suggestion, and headed to United Noodle – a large Asian grocery store. They would for SURE have Japanese or Chinese oranges, right?

Nope. Neither did Sun Foods, another large Asian grocery.

What they did both carry, however, were Halos. Halos are fine – and they’re actually pretty close to the Atlantic Canadian idea of Christmas oranges, packaging aside – but I really wanted my Mandarins!

So, I ended up with 6 different types of oranges (as well as “Limequats”, which had absolutely nothing to do with anything, but fascinated me nonetheless!), and wanted to do a comparison. Aside from the Halos and the last “Mandarins”, all of the oranges – and Limequats – were purchased at Wedge Coop.

Of course – if it hasn’t been obvious from this blog post so far – take my findings with a grain of salt. Due to the nature of naming conventions, there’s a good chance you could buy something that is called the same as one of these, and have it be something completely different. For that reason, I am including as much identifying information as possible!


Table below is pictured in order, left to right

Photo Sold As Details
Kishu Mandarin Tiny – about 1.5-2″ in diameter! Very easy to peel, loose skin, very little pith – which rubs off easily. Good balance of sweet and tart, leaning slightly towards the tart. Fairly juicy, seedless. Expensive, but fun. (They were obviously not Christmas oranges, but I couldn’t resist!)
Halos Halo is a brand name, not an actual variety. They’re very similar to Cuties, which we tend to prefer but haven’t seen in a while. Like Cuties, the variety of orange depends on the time of year. According to the Halo’s site (here), these were Clementines. Makes sense, given how similar they are to the Atlantic Canadian “Christmas Orange” – also sold as Clementines. These were not as easy to peel as I was looking for – skin comes off in small chunks. Also slightly more tart, and had no seeds. Readily available – it was all they carried in the Asian markets! Clementines also tend to be more spherical than what I was looking for.
Sunburst Tangerine This Florida orange was very smooth and shiny – a stark contrast to the rough, dimply skin of most of the other varieties. It was VERY difficult to peel by hand – probably better to slice. Thin, hard skin, with pith that is very attached to the segments. Has seeds, tastes like a pretty basic orange (not “Christmas” orange).
Algerian Mandarin These are called “Algerian”, but were grown in California! They were purchased at The Wedge, and is one of two oranges that were labelled as being Mandarins (not including Halos, which refer to their oranges as Mandarins on their site). This had a medium-thick skin that was very easy to peel, while not actually being loose/separated from the orange inside. It had a fair amount of sticky pith – harder to remove than some varieties. Tastes right, but the sticky pith is annoying. No seeds.
California Satsuma This was the “ugly” one of the lot – irregular, kind of squat shape, with very dimply, loose skin… AND IT WAS PERFECT. Very easy to peel, medium thick skin, only a small amount of pith that detaches from the segments very easily. Absolutely my favourite, and the closest to what I remember “Christmas”oranges being. Very plump and juicy segments, and among the sweetest of those tested. No seeds.
Mandarin After paying about $4/lb for the Satsumas, I saw 3lb bags of these “Mandarins” at Hy-Vee… and they looked very much like the Satsumas, just slightly larger. These were also very easy to peel – but had much more pith. Also has the thickest skin of all. The flesh isn’t has juicy as any of the other varieties, and has a gigantic grain to it. Has seeds.

So, as you can see… not only can the names be confusing (“Mandarin” was used for three wildly different oranges, none of which was what was referred to as “Mandarin” back home… which is “Satsuma” here!), but appearances can be deceiving, also: The Satsuma and second type of “Mandarin” looked VERY similar!

I’d asked this on my Facebook page, may as well as here too – the replies were FASCINATING (here):

1. Were “Christmas oranges” a thing where you grew up, and/or where you are now?

2. If so, what exactly does that mean to you? What was the actual orange called, what did it look like, was it easy to peel or not, how was it sold, where were they grown, etc. As much detail as possible, please!

3. Where was/is this (state/province, etc)

With 2017 being Canada’s 150th birthday, it’s about time I wrote the Canadian cookbook I’ve been planning for YEARS.

“More than Poutine” will be a Canadian cookbook like no other – written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional homecooking recipes, as well as homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada!

High quality gluten-free versions of most recipes will be included.

The Kickstarter for “More Than Poutine is live, here. Please consider backing, and sharing the campaign with your friends!

Coming out of the closet. Eek!

So, I have a secret I’ve been keeping for many years. My close friends know, and I’ve been getting better about admitting to it in casual convo with “safe” people.. but here goes..

I’m an immigrant!

Whew! Never thought I’d see the day I’d admit to that publicly. Not sure if I’m feeling relieved, or horrified at myself at the moment. Holy crap. It’s been a long time coming, though.

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