The 4,000 year evolution of the citrus fruit
By Suzanne Biro
I grew up in South-eastern Ontario where then, like now, the winter temperatures dip below minus-20 degrees for days at a time. Warm beach vacations are usually the only way to boost morale at this time of year, but the four children in my family made vacationing a budget affair. For Spring Break my family would pile into the van for the three day drive to sunny Florida. The drive was far from pleasant; my father was notorious for "mind navigation" so there were countless arguments between him and my mother about who got us lost and how to get us back on the right road. We only ever stopped for gas so if any of us had to use the toilet we had to hold it until the red indicator fell on "E."
Sometime after the first 30 hours of driving, while we lay in half-sleep daze, the seatbelts cutting across our laps uncomfortably, a different aroma would start to distinguish itself from the gas and diesel of the freeway. A look out the window through the grey fog of early morning revealed the shadows of orange groves and with them the heady, sweet scent of orange blossoms. At the next gas stop, the one that coincided with grits and eggs, our parents would buy a big bag of oranges and from that point on we would amuse ourselves eating the delicious fruit and trying to get the free plastic drinking spout to actually produce orange juice straight from the fruit. Orlando was soon to follow.
Most oranges in North America are grown in either Florida or California. Production in these states is so successful that oranges are available in supermarkets virtually year round, so it is easy to take the fruit for granted. It wasnt always this way. My parents still reminisce about getting an orange in the toe of their Xmas stockings the only one they might get the entire year!
There are three types of oranges, sweet, sour/bitter and loose skinned. Originating in China 4,000 years ago, the common ancestor was "most likely" the bitter Seville orange (also called Bigarade). This orange is very sour and pungent and unpalatable to eat out of hand. It is usually reserved for marmalade and liqueurs, where its flavour shines.
From China the orange moved to India, Japan, Africa and was brought to Spain by the Arabs and to France by the Crusaders. The sweet orange did not reach Europe until the 1530s, brought from India via Portuguese and Italian merchants. The Portuguese were also the first to introduce oranges to North America.