I think every adult of a certain generation has a story that involves receiving an orange in their Christmas stocking–sometimes accompanied by a few walnuts, sometimes not–and being infinitely grateful for that holiday treat. My mother, Maxine, is one of those adults. Growing up in Minnesota, she didn’t see oranges very often; her Christmas orange was a kind of miracle, having traveled a significant distance to get to her. She tells the story of returning to school after Christmas and sitting behind a classmate in their one-room schoolhouse, smelling the orange that girl was eating for lunch and wishing it was hers, but knowing she wouldn’t taste an orange for at least another year. (My father, who grew up in such abject poverty that it’s hardly imaginable, probably didn’t have so much as an orange in his stocking, if he had a stocking at all.)
My husband’s grandmother, Joyce, grew up in Florida, so oranges were no novelty for her–they were a source of income for her family. She and her mother picked oranges and strawberries all year long. Often, she worked instead of going to school. It’s possible she picked my mother’s annual orange, or perhaps the one that classmate was eating. Not likely, but possible.
So oranges are an important part of our family’s history. At Christmas, we use a silver bowl filled with oranges as our centerpiece. (The photo with this post is from last year’s Christmas table.) They remind us to be thankful to the hard-working people who went before us, and to be grateful for the fact that we can afford to eat an orange anytime we want one. That bowl was given to us by Joyce, who grew up to make a small fortune in real estate and to own quite a number of lovely things. I admired that bowl in her china cabinet once, and not long afterward she wrapped it up and sent it to me. I consider that bowl to be one of the most precious things I own.
Along with the bowl of oranges, I try to use orange, both the flavor and the color, as a theme in our Christmas Eve dinner. (We eat our big meal on Christmas Eve, then take it easy with a brunch after present-opening on Christmas day.) In the past I’ve made a cheddar cheese souffle, glazed carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, chicken with orange-apricot glaze, cheesecake with peach topping; usually we crack open a bottle of Italian blood orange soda to toast the holiday as well. I try not to serve a monochromatic meal, but orange is always the featured attraction.
Now that classes are finished for the semester and only finals stand between me and the holiday break, I’ve started thinking about what this year’s dinner might look like. Any suggestions, dear readers? Do you have favorite recipes (or ideas) that might make a new contribution to The Orange Meal? Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section–or to share your own holiday food traditions.