I read the essay Borderland by M.F.K. Fisher on a sunny afternoon during a fleeting hour of leisure. The title gave no hint to the topic of the essay, yet within the first few sentences, the words began to resonate. Speaking of the simple pleasures of food, the methodological preparation of the tangerines reveals that what we choose to eat is uniquely personal. The essay remained knocking around the back of my mind and was instantly recalled, due to what will become obvious reasons, upon spotting Still Life with Wrapped Tangerines by William Joseph McCloskey. M.F.K. Fisher’s writing is so evocative, the quiet moment and uncomplicated enjoyment of a preferred treat cannot be more eloquently related than through an abridged version of her Borderland essay.

“In the morning, in the soft sultry chamber, sit in the window peeling tangerines, three or four. Peel them gently; do not bruise them…separate each plump little pregnant crescent…Take yesterday’s paper (when we were in Strasbourg L’Ami du Peuple was the best, because when it got hot the ink stayed on it) and spread it on the radiator…After you have put the pieces of tangerine on the paper on the hot radiator, it is best to forget about them…On the radiator the sections of tangerines have grown even plumper, hot and full. You carry them to the window, pull it open, and leave them for a few minutes on the packed snow on the sill. They are ready…I cannot tell you why they are so magical. Perhaps it is that little shell, thin as one layer of enamel on a Chinese bowl, that crackles so tinily, so ultimately under your teeth. Or the rush of cold pulp just after it. Or the perfume. I cannot tell.”

M.F.K. Fisher, Borderland

William Joseph McCloskey, Still Life with Wrapped Tangerines, 1889
oil on canvas, 25.4 x 35.56 cm, Private collection

The American artist, William Joseph McCloskey, was also know by the title ‘Master of the Wrapped Citrus’ as it was a subject he revisited often. The fruits were often set upon a highly polished table with particular attention paid to the texture of the paper and the citrus peels. McCloskey worked closely with is wife, fellow artist Alberta McCloskey, even completing joint paintings together. Alberta studied under William Merritt Chase and his aesthetic appears to have also had an effect upon the work by William Joseph McCloskey. Looking at the earlier canvases by Chase – specifically the paintings produced after studying at the Munich Academy – they feature dark atmospheric qualities with a number of expertly rendered textures among the kitchen goods. McCloskey embraced the trompe l’oeil school becoming a ‘Master of Illusion’ in addition to his ‘Wrapped Citrus’ title.

{Oven Candied Tangerines}

Yield: 4 servings

4 tangerines
1 cup vanilla yogurt, to serve

Preheat the oven to 150C. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.

Carefully peel the 4 tangerines and divide into segments. Remove any visible white pith. Arrange the segments on the baking paper and slide into the bottom rack of the oven.

Roast for 20-30 minutes until the tangerines are full of juice and the skins are brittle like tissue-paper. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5-1o minutes until serving. Serve alongside a generous dollop of cold yogurt.