Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Smell of Oranges

What is it about the smell of oranges that reminds me of Christmas? I was making a Daube Provincial recipe this morning which included among it's 25 ingredients (but only 1 pot!) thin orange peel. When I finished and washed my hands, the fragrance of orange still remained, better that the god awful smell of onion. And, the first thought that came to mind was Christmas.

As a child, one of the standard school art projects was the orange with cloves. Remember those, the orange with dozens of cloves stuck in it and a nice red ribbon. The idea was a gift for your mom as a sachet for her closet. I never got it. Who wanted a half rotten orange with brown things stuck in it to hang next to your clothes? But, perhaps that was because the teachers had us do the project in mid December and given, in the sunny south, our December climate was still in the 70's so the orange was fairly "ripe" by the time December 25th came around. Aunt Kat always seemed a lot more excited about the orange/clove sachet than Mama was - fancy that.

Then there were our Christmas stockings. Thinking back on it, our stockings always included the same things - nuts, fireworks, hard candy, and one or two oranges - every year. I think the excitement was seeing if this was the year Santa deviated from the plan. But alas, it never happened. The fireworks included a box of sparklers, a small pack of firecrackers, and my favorite - a box of fire pops. The almonds and walnuts (in their shells) - oh yeah, the nuts were still in their shells - rarely got eaten. However, they did become excellent airborne ammunition for whatever scuffles my brother and I might get into later on in the day. The oranges did get consumed, and I don't where they came from, but they were juicy and sweet and had the sweet fragrance that I remember to this day.

Another Christmas memory was Ambrosia. Now, like most holiday traditions, my father's family and my mother's family had different views on this desert. So when we made our annual Christmas trek (you know the one over the river and through the woods, every Christmas) we got to sample both. My Aunt Kat and Granny's was sections of fresh orange, grapefruit, and maraschino cherries with shredded coconut served on top. Grandmama's was cut-up oranges, cherries, peaches, coconut, and baby marshmallows. While Aunt Kat's was presented properly and served on her green crystal desert plates (that matched her Spode Christmas china), Grandmama's was all mixed up and served from a bowl on the buffet. I was told early on not to comment disparagingly on either.

Traditionally in the south, especially on the coast, citrus fruit was served during the holidays, being brought in on trading ships from the Caribbean. The amount of fruit served was a sign of wealth. And no, I don't think Mama’s Santa’s inclusion of citrus fruit in our stocking was a show of wealth. But, it is part of our holiday customs. One I never really considered before. So whether it was the orange/clove sachet, the reliable oranges in my stocking every Christmas morning, or the dueling ambrosias, the scent of oranges reminds me of Christmas and (to paraphrase Martha) that is not a bad thing.

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