The Joys Of Modern Life 74. Satsumas

They are sweet and nutritious, children love 'em and Santa Claus shifts them by the sleigh-load on Christmas Eve: I give you the satsuma or tangerine or mandarin.

You know what I mean: those orange things you find right at the bottom of your stocking while trying to squeeze one more toy out of the proceedings at about 5am on 25 December.

The tangerine is the American version of the mandarin. The satsuma is a seedless variety. Clementines are a hybrid of mandarin and Seville orange.

High in vitamins A and C, mandarins also contain potassium, calcium and dietary fibre. With the festive season under way, they are the perfect antidote to the hangover, especially if you have children. All you have to do is put cartoons on the telly, throw some satsumas at the kids and pull the duvet up over your head. You could have an extra hour's kip before you are forced downstairs to wash up a saucepan to make their porridge.

There is no complicated preparation involved with mandarins - even a two-year-old can get the skin off - but, "Let's make it easier," someone thought, and there is now an easy-peel variety available. Whether you opt for the easy-peel or not, mandarins are much easier to get into than that other Yuletide favourite the Brazil nut, which can be eaten only when the builder in the family comes round for drinks. Mandarins are also popular when presented to guests in a bowl - far more refreshing than anything out of the Quality Street tin.

These soft citrus fruits originate in China and have been available in this country for at least 200 years. This year, the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Information Bureau predicts that 234,000 tonnes of them will fly off the UK's shelves (up 12.5 per cent on last year).

They are now an integral part of the British Christmas, as synonymous with the season as mince pies and embarrassing ourselves at office parties. They flood into the shops in the autumn, and it's a thrill when we first catch sight of them nestled next to the pumpkins. Give or take a couple of months, their presence means that Christmas is on the way. Satsumas in July? It just wouldn't be the same.

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