The Mandarin is a small jewel of a fruit with a fragrance that is the epitome of Christmas. Once upon a time it only appeared in our shops around the festive season; we called it a tangerine then; sold by the dozen arranged in pretty flat waxy cardboard boxes. The lid was tied down and the anticipation of slipping the knot and lifting the lid, to reveal the foil wrapped bright orange fruit inside cushioned with crinkles of tissue paper was part of the general excitement of the festive season: a far cry from the heaps of fruit sold for months on end in our shops today.
Mandarin was a nickname given to a loose-skinned orange-like fruit Citrus reticulata that arrived in this country from China at the beginning of the nineteenth century and remains today a useful general name for a wide range of similar fruits like the Clementine and Satsuma. They are at their peak at this time of year, so sweet, juicy, refreshing and easy to eat and remain synonymous with Christmas. Tied onto a Christmas tree with bows, arranged formally in a pyramid with bay leaves or simply tipped into a fruit bowl they “deck the halls” of homes up and down the country.
Peeled and rid of their pith they sparkle on the festive table. Served whole or sliced, either caramelised or marinated in sugar and white rum they make a reviving finale to a rich winter meal. Don’t throw the skin away – dry it in a low oven or warm airing cupboard, grind it and add to casseroles and marinades or simply chop it finely and add to stir-fries. Oh and yes the skins make the perfect receptacle for a mandarin sorbet.
Sliced mandarins with pomegranate jewels and maraschino
16 mandarins, peeled, pith removed with a sharp knife and sliced thinly
3 level tablespoons of caster sugar
3 tablespoons of maraschino
1 pomegranate, cut into quarters - scrape out the seeds and discard the pith
Put the prepared mandarin slices in a large shallow glass bowl, sprinkle with sugar and maraschino or other white liqueur, Cast the pomegranate jewels over the top and leave for an hour or two.