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