OF CITRUS AND MEN. Most popular Christmas fruits in Latvia.

While we are struggling to be an open and an open-minded country at the end of the year, CAPITAL R looks for something more FRUIT-ful to read this Christmas. And what would it be if not a story of why some citrus are so hard to resist during December?
To warm up for a "Latvian Christmas Oddities" co-op article coming up next week on "Latvia Weekly" blog, here is a first, short gateway chapter. A story on Latvia's most beloved tropical fruits of winter season - Tangerines and Pomelos!
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Seems that each year the Day of Independence of Latvia on 18 November begins a four-way draft of people in the country. One say "yea" to Mandarīni, others fall into Pomelo category, the third part are in for both, and the forth - "nay" to all! No doubt Latvians have a common passion to citrus harvest similarly to most of countries. All types of oranges, as well as lemons and sometimes grapefruits are regular visitors in our glasses, bowls, desserts, or eaten as whole. Still, these two particularly mentioned round boys are shooting up the statistics.


Tangerines, for sure, have been the longest tropical part of Christmas titbit bags for, say, some 40 years. Most children still receive them at schools before leaving for winter break - the fruits are mixed up with gingerbread, chocolate and hard candy, and other sweets to be handed out as holiday presents from "the principal". Some poorer kids though remember tangerines being a largest part of their Christmas presents until the late 90's.

There was not much money for other gifts, and parents (moms, usually) exercised in improvisation - some fruits and a cheapo chocolate bar "Fregata" was summed up as a gift and nothing else (since it was sometimes too hard to afford those two already). Eventually, only a few can deny that mandarīns is one of the most common and tastiest seasonal import treats, and many associate the whole winter time with their soft, yet refreshing aroma.

Some say tangerines could have come to our modest, then Soviet country from our brotherly nations in Africa. Maybe it was eventually Morocco or Spain. Whatsoever, mandarīns very soon became another symbol of the free world (along bananas) in the 90's and now has claimed the title of "Christmas king" among fruits in our Northern country. You can't imagine how many hundreds of thousands of tons Latvians consume per week - for an average local one kilogramme of Tangerines is no problem to be eliminated per evening.


As for pomelo, or shaddock, or pampelmuse, this enormous fruit began its walk of fame around a dozen years ago. Then, extremely soon, the Citrus giant became the fiercest competitor to its little, orange distant child, and could have been dethroning them as the symbol of winter season to many.
Some ironize that the national acceptance of pomelo came after a local "Flight of the Conchords-like" duo called "Čipsis un Dullais" recorded their mega-hit in 2012 with its significant chorus - "How can I please you today if I have no sherbet and pomelo?"
Otherwise, the first memories about this yellow super ball imported from China (usually) are rather related to peeling process. One could only wonder how terrible was the taste of trying to chew whole segments with their hard, plastic-like membranes and only then realizing - you just get to eat the pulp. But once you master it - the amount of juiciness one can get out of pomelo can feed a family.

Finally, another urban legend that turned out true was that there is actually an official name other than pomelo in Latvian dictionaries - pampelmūze. Some might be surprised about such linguistic twist, others don't want to accept this since pomelo is a much shorter, updated and very much used word. Eventually, thanks to the free world a dozen years ago, many Latvians have been introduced to this delightful giant which otherwise wouldn't turn its face toward us during the Soviet time.


Now, when the relationship with Latvians and their tropical arrivals have been documented, we need to know for sure, what is the general feeling about each one of our citrus heroes. CAPITAL R created a little poll to find out exactly - what are your personal thoughts on the fruits Latvians like the most in December. So, we end this article now, and it continues with your vote!