Winter is the season for citrus fruits: oranges, mandarins and… clementines. Of course, the Corsican ones are the best!
By Jerôme Dumur - Photos Fotolia - December 24, 2011
Clementine, I confess without hesitation: I love you. I adore the subtle perfume that your sun-drenched skin leaves on my fingers. I never grow weary of caressing you in the palm of my hand, your curves hidden behind a scant foliage, like a prudish Eve. Dare I say it: I’ve got the hots for you ! I’m crazy about the sweet taste you leave on my tongue. Above all, I love your unique personality, the heritage of your native land of Corsica. Oh, I won’t lie to you: you have rivals, Spanish beauties, North African delights… But no other offers me a shiver of tartness with every kiss the way
you do. The Corsican clementine—the object of my affection, as you’ve no doubt understood—is the queen of the winter citruses. It is a veritable little candy that graces our market stalls every year, from All Saints Day to Mardi Gras. Not only is it good for our palate; it’s also good for our health. It’s full of things that help our bodies confront the winter months: vitamins A and C, carotene, potassium, calcium, magnesium… These nutritional qualities are all the more rich as clementines always arrive at our greengrocers at peak ripeness, harvested at full maturity… even if their appearance
is often deceiving in that regard. Many fruits have a slightly greenish tint to their skin at the base. Don’t let yourself be fooled by the famous “green ass” the fruit growers talk about. It does not betray an
unripe fruit. In fact, the contrary is often true! A little lesson will help you understand: the chlorophyll contained in the clementine’s skin only transforms to orange pigments in low temperatures. And yet, as tourists know, the Corsican climate is quite pleasant, even in the autumn. Therefore, the synthesis remains incomplete. Mystery solved! There is a solution for making the skin a uniform color: pass the crates of fruit through a cold chamber. This is called “de-greening,” and it is done everywhere except on the
Corsican “Isle of Beauty.” The island growers refuse to do this, knowing very well that this manipulation can damage the perfume of their precious harvest. The Corsicans have a better way to show customers that their clementines pass directly from the growers to the markets: they deliberately leave two or three leaves on each fruit. Since it doesn’t fare well in the cold and dries up within a few days, the state of this greenery bears witness to the freshness of the fruit it accompanies. It’s details like this that have given the Corsican clementine the status of a “Protected Geographical Indication” (PGI).
If there are no seeds in a clementine, that’s because the clementine tree is sterile. Therefore, the fruit can only be cultivated through grafting. This is how clementine trees the world over all came from the same ancestor: the fruit of a cross between a mandarin and a sweet orange. This accident of nature was brought to light in an Algerian orphanage, in the beginning of the 20th Century, when Father Clément discovered it, named it and uncovered the secrets of its cultivation. It then spread rapidly across the Mediterranean coasts. The first clementine tree was planted in Corsica in 1925 by a certain Philippe Semidei. There, it found its ideal conditions to develop a perfect equilibrium between sweetness and acidity, giving us the unique flavor we enjoy today.