If you recently found an orange in the toe of your stocking, it was almost certainly an “easy peeler” – a depressingly utilitarian description suggesting it was selected for the thickness of its skin, rather than the juiciness or flavour of the fruit inside.
Though this vague designation is no doubt useful for retailers, which can retain the same (unnecessary) packaging throughout the year, regardless of which variety is currently going cheap, it’s frustrating for the consumer, who must squint to discover whether they’re getting a deliciously sharp tangerine, a sweet and zesty clementine, or another of the countless varieties of small, soft citrus fruits that are grown commercially.
The citrus expert Bruce McMichael, author of the Substack newsletter “Lemon Grove”, explained to me that though most so-called easy peelers are varieties of mandarin, “citrus is a highly promiscuous family, cross-pollinating at any opportunity”, making it “an endlessly fascinating fruit”. He talks of nadorcotts and tangolds, Californian Cuties and Croatian mandarinas.
Meanwhile, in her 2017 book Citrus, Catherine Phipps waxes lyrical about the “highly fragrant… utterly beguiling” notes of what she calls “real” mandarins. “For me, these are the Holy Grail… I spend half the winter looking for them and, when I finally find a supply, frantically buy up as many as I can for preserving purposes, just so I can get a year-round fix.”
Paul Chuter, director of Nottingham’s Green Star Produce and self-confessed “citrus nerd”, called this homogenisation of the category – which he attributes to an EU ruling – “a crime” in a December letter to the Spectator. “We choose our apples by variety, and we should do the same for these fruit.” Chuter recommended readers look out for the thin-skinned and deeply flavoured nadorcott in particular. Sold as “easy peelers”, obviously.
[See also: In praise of the honesty box]
This article appears in the 04 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Sunak Under Siege