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Years ago now, I lived in San Francisco for a couple of months while doing an internship. It was a fantastic experience, not least because I lived with an amazing family. The mother was French, the two teenage kids were bilingual, the house was on a steep hill in North Beach with Alcatraz visible from the living room and sea lions’ guttural grunts carried on the wind from Pier 39. I learned so much from them (the family, not so much the sea lions) about giving, generosity, and the truly random and surprisingly crude French sense of humour.

But the most tangible lesson I took away was how to peel an orange.

Each night dinner followed a fairly regular routine which I’ve always assumed drew on French influences, but could have just been a personal quirk. There would be a main meal – usually some roasted vegetables, maybe some brown rice, small but perfect steaks or duck-legs or some other meat. Then a huge bowl of green salad leaves appeared and everyone helped themself to a plateful, doused with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and cracked pepper, mopped up with crusty bread. Then Alix would make a pot of herbal tea, and there would be oranges and dark chocolate.

There was only one way to eat your orange.

It took me some time to realise this. Where I come from, orange season is footy season. Oranges are quartered and smashed into the mouth, bright skin wedged into the gums like a hillbilly mouthguard, fibrous pulp collecting between the teeth. On very special occasions an adult might denude a piece of fruit in a single spiral, presenting the serpentine peel with a flourish to an open-mouthed youngster. So I attacked the oranges of California with gusto, is what I’m driving at. I didn’t notice at first the cringes with every blatant bisection I made.

There was only one way to eat your orange.

First you use a sharp knife to slice in a circle around the top and bottom of the orange. You don’t cut into the flesh, just through the skin. Twist and pull out the circle. Make angled cuts vertically around the orange. Again, don’t pierce the flesh, just cut through the hard skin. Make about five of these cuts so you can peel off each segment. Pull off the hairy white bits of pith. Break the fruit into segments and eat with relish while telling dirty jokes.

In theory you shouldn’t get sticky hands because the fruit stays intact and no juice is spilled during the peeling. In reality I still end up a mess. But I still hold out hope of some day being able to disrobe an orange at record speed with no muss, no fuss.

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