ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY:   Real cuties from California

© Another Day in the Country

When I was a full time inhabitant of California, there was an occurrence that signaled the beginning of the holiday season for us, every year.

No, it wasn’t all the store windows glittering with white lights or Christmas music in the air. It wasn’t cold weather and snow, either. It was the arrival of tangerines for sale by the roadside.

There was one vineyard in the valley that had planted tangerine trees that looked like a row of tiny dwarf fruit trees covered in delicate orange Christmas ornaments. We could see them from the Silverado Trail as we drove by, and we were watching, waiting for the day when bags of them for sale would appear by the roadside.

Sometimes there would be a farm worker in the vicinity to collect your money, sometimes there’d just be a container — imagine, this on a busy road in the Napa Valley, and always we were filled with anticipation to get a bite of our very first tangerine of the season.

These weren’t just any tangerines. They were tiny jewels with extravagant flavor. It was one of those Christmas treats that you don’t have to worry whether they are healthy for the kids. They could have as many as they wanted and they were so easy to peel.

One bag was never enough because by the time we got home, it would probably be consumed. The kids’ fingers would be sticky, the inside of the windows smeared and the door handles a mess, peelings would escape their laps and end up on the floor to fossilize if not retrieved. A mess, right?

But the inside of the car would be floating in microscopic globules of citrus oil released into the air while one tiny tangerine after another was peeled and parceled out.

Oh, how we loved tangerine season. Then one year, the whole holiday season came and went. Something was missing. Where were the tiny tangerines? We stopped, inquired. No more diminutive tangerine trees. They’d been pulled up by the roots and more grape vines stood in their place. “The owners have planted an orchard somewhere else. Be patient. It will be awhile.”

Well, I’ve been waiting.

Several years went by and then it happened. Little compact tangerines with a bright blue label — first in boxes and then in bags appeared in Kansas, thanks to the miracle of mass transit. “Cuties” the label declared “Cuties, from California.”

“Aha,” I said to my sister “The tangerines are back.”

And, oh how we love them — no matter the brand. We buy a bag and they may be gone before we get home — it’s an hour’s drive from Salina, after all.

“Next time we’ll buy two bags.” We tell each other, “apiece!”

These little sweeties come with different brand names but no matter the name, the tiny temptresses are worth every penny. My taste buds dance, just thinking about them. My mouth salivates.

Yesterday I took a bag of them to the art class I teach at Butler of Marion. We’re all trying to stay healthy during flu season, steering away from the sugar, so a tangerine is the perfect afternoon snack.

Last week, Denise painted watercolor apples in a blue bowl and then added a favorite poem about Eve’s dilemma right on her artwork. It turned out so cute!

“I’d like to do something like that,” I said to myself this week, “But I don’t have enough apples for a still life.” Aha, creative juices started to flow, “What about tangerines?”

When I got to class, I set up my still life and offered some extras for the class to eat. When Lanore came, she’d brought tangerines, too, for a snack — so we had plenty. It was a good thing because, my arrangement needed more and more tangerines to complete the drawing — first to balance the fruit I had peeled on the left and then to add some depth to the back of the painting.

The smell in the room was intoxicating.

“How many tangerines do you have in your painting now?” asked Frankie.

I began to count. There were nine — I’d started with five.

“How many have you eaten?” she laughed. (It was at least that many.)

Then, inspired by my students, I wrote a ditty about tangerines to add to my artwork — one good idea spawns another, you know.

“Tangerines, full of Vitamin C. Good for the kiddies, for you, for me. Tangy and sweet and oh so yummy. Taste buds sing ‘fore they hit your tummy. They are real cuties, a California treat, easy to peel and incredibly sweet. What more could you want from juice and pulp, than this marvelous fruit that won’t fill you up?”

Okay, the poet laureate, I am not, but you get the idea, and what a delightful way to spend another day in the country!

 

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