Oranges: A Global History by Clarissa Hyman, PDF, 1780230990

December 14, 2017

Oranges: A Global History (Edible) by Clarissa Hyman

  • Print Length: 151 Pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2013
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00G2ADR8E
  • ISBN-10: 1780230990
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780230993
  • File Format: PDF




1 The History of Oranges

2 Cultivation


3 Classification


4 Business and Trade


5 Orange Juice


6 Blossom, Zest and Peel


7 The Poetry of Oranges


8 Art, Design and Culture


9 Health and Cookery


10 Marmalade






Select Bibliography


Websites and Associations




Photo Acknowledgements





The History of Oranges

In a word, these trees charm the eye, satisfy the smell, gratify

the taste, serving both luxury and art, and presenting to

astonished man a union of all delights.

Giorgio Gallesio, Orange Culture: A Treatise on the

Citrus Family ()

Oranges may not be the only fruit, but they are one of

the most romantic. For centuries, they have captured the

imagination, beguiled with fiery golden hues and intoxi-

cating fragrance, and sensuously refreshed our palates, yet

their precise history remains as elusive and tantalizing as

their scent.

One key theory by the botanist Walter T. Swingle held

that the proto-parents of the citrus family originated in the

New Guinea-Melanesia region before the continents of Asia

and Australia broke apart,

but its evolution into many different species took place

chiefly on the mainland of southeastern Asia. In fact, it

is only there that the most highly developed species of

Citrus can be considered as indigenous.

More recently, botanists David Mabberley and Andrew

Beattie have supported this view of the dispersal of the

earliest true species of citrus as ‘floating fruit’ on westward-

flowing equatorial currents millions of years ago. The focus

thus became ‘Monsoonia’, the mountainous parts of south-

ern China and northeast India where most commercial

species and cultivars originated. The Japanese botanist

T. Tanaka (–) narrowed this to northern Burma and

Assam, while the eminent scientist and sinophile Joseph

Needham (–) wrote:

There can be no manner of doubt that the original home

and habitat of these trees was on the eastern and south-

ern slopes of the Himalayan massif; a fact which is

reflected in the presence of the maximum number of old-

established varieties in the Chinese culture-area, as also in

the extreme antiquity of the Chinese literary references.

Later studies point to Yunnan, along with nearby areas

of India, Burma and southern China, as the primitive centres

of origin.

With such profusion of growth and botanical develop-

ment, it was inevitable that seeds and trees would spread – by

bird, animal or man, sea or land. Routes were various, but

whether it was to be by way of southern India, Arabia and the

Nile or through Asia Minor, citrus was set to circle the world.

The earliest mention of oranges and their ‘congeners’ is

in the Yu Kung chapter on geo-botany in the Shu Ching (Book

of Historical Documents), which Needham says may date

back to the eighth or ninth century . Han Fei, a philosopher

from the second century , describes a much earlier dis-

course that contrasts the characteristics of oranges and thorny

lime bushes (sour trifoliate). It becomes a parable of the

Chinese porcelain vase

painted in underglaze

blue and overglazed

enamels on gilt, –

. In one decorative

panel a lady in a gar-

den is being offered a

citrus fruit by a richly

dressed young man.

care women need to take when choosing young men. Another

mention, in  , discusses the etiquette of peeling an

orange at a princely court. Chü Lu ( The Orange Record),

written in   by Han Yen-Chih, is the oldest known

monograph on the orange and describes  varieties of sweet,

sour and mandarin oranges, including one which ‘tastes sweet

like milk’.

So, like Suzanne in the Leonard Cohen song, we feed on

tea and oranges that came all the way from China, although

the first fruit were often dry, thick-skinned and seedy. The

Chinese, however, readily became expert growers, their

horticultural skills sharpened by both cultural isolation and

favourable natural conditions. Increased demand plus better

communication between the provinces soon led to the large-

scale planting of commercial orchards. According to Needham,

‘It is safe to conclude that citrus fruits were being grown

industrially for market . . . for at least half a century before

people in Europe encountered the first of the group to

become known to them.’

Oranges were generally less valued for nourishment than

for aesthetic, medical or olfactory qualities, but they were also

preserved in honey or used to season vegetables, tea and wine.

Su Tung-p’o ( ) lyrically describes the gathering of

sweet oranges to make a wine that is ‘worthy of turquoize [ sic]

ladles, silver flagons, purple gauze, and green silk wrappers’.

His description of ‘a thousand yellow-headed slaves’ in the

groves of the wealthy still strikes a compelling note.

In India, a medical treatise c.   was the first to

mention the fruit by a term we recognize today. Naranga or

narangi derives from the Sanskrit, originally meaning ‘per-

fume within’, but thereafter the word trail is long and winding.

Citrons were the first citrus fruit commonly known to the

classical world, but to what extent the Romans were also famil-

iar with oranges remains disputed. Samuel Tolkowsky argues

that they were grown, albeit for purely ornamental purposes.

As evidence, he points to a Pompeii mosaic that features ‘an

orange affected with a type of excrescence with which every

orange-grower is familiar’, and garlands of oranges on the

fourth-century mosaics in S. Constanza, Rome. Alfred C.

Andrews generally took the Tolkowsky line, albeit with reser-

vations, when he wrote,

It is also reasonable to assume that orange culture was

introduced into Lower Egypt about the beginning of

the Christian era, that shipments of the fruit were made


from this area to central Italy, and that attempts were

made to raise orange trees there.

On the other hand, L. Ramón-Laca notes that it is strik-

ing that there are no mentions of different citrus fruit until

the time of the Arabic authors: ‘This fact points directly to

the responsibility of the Muslims, except in the case of the

citron, for the main diffusion of the different citrus and its

subsequent introduction to the Mediterranean basin.’

After the Lombard invasion in  , the luxurious

gardens of the Romans were largely wiped out. Citrus disap-

peared, except in some southern areas of the Mediterranean

world, until the Arabs revived the art of citriculture a few hun-

dred years later, bringing the bitter ‘Seville’ orange from Arabia

to North Africa and Spain along with Persian techniques of

cultivation, planting and irrigation. A story Tolkowsky tells

illustrates the profound love citrus held for the conquerors: in

Baghdad, a Caliph had a grove whose ‘interlaced branches

were loaded with red and yellow fruit glittering like stars’.

When deprived of his throne and blinded by his nephew, to

prevent the latter from enjoying the beautiful orchard, he

pretended to have buried treasure there. The nephew promptly

dug up all the trees.

Citrus held a special place in the Islamic soul, being loved

for its graceful form, the intensity of its evergreen leaves and

its hedonistic blossom. The flowers, fruit and leaves were also

used in medicine, gastronomy and the cosmetic arts. The

wood was fashioned into the most beautiful furniture; even

the twig ends were shredded and used as disposable tooth-


In turn, the Crusades created an interest in northern Europe

in exotic new produce brought back by the returning warriors

in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These included a


Babur, the first Mughal emperor, supervising the laying out of the Garden

of Fidelity outside Kabul, c. , opaque watercolour and gold on paper.

variety of sour orange called bigardia, and the bittersweet fruits must have seemed irresistible tokens of azure skies and soft

sunshine. Queen Eleanor of Castile, who would have grown

up knowing about citrus fruit, arrived in Acre in Israel in 

for a two-year stay with her husband Edward . Years later,

she perhaps had a Proustian moment, buying fifteen lemons

and seven oranges from a Spanish ship in Portsmouth.

According to Barbara Santich, citrus had become reason-

ably common in Italy by the thirteenth century, although a

century later it was still novel enough in Prato for Francesco

Datini to have a large orange tree as a status symbol. In

Provence, Catherine de Medici gave her guests gifts of cit-

rons and oranges. By the end of the sixteenth century, Santich

notes, Swiss visitors to Perpignan and Barcelona marvelled at

the numbers of citrus trees in the streets, and were amazed

in Montpellier at the cheapness of oranges which people

threw at each other during Mardi Gras.

How the sweet Chinese orange arrived in Europe is uncer-

tain. The popular story is that João de Castro was the first

to bring a tree to Lisbon in the mid-sixteenth century, and

from this all others were cultivated. However, the first written

reference dates back to  – a bill of sale from a trader in

Savona, now in Liguria, Italy, that mentions , sweet

oranges. In the account of Vasco da Gama’s voyage in 

by Alvaro Velho, ‘fine’ orange trees are mentioned that are

‘better than those of Portugal’, but whether this means sweet

oranges were known earlier in Europe or not, is unclear.

Tolkowsky believed that they were, and argued that the

Talmudic expression ‘sweet citrons’ refers to sweet oranges.

He also quoted Platina who, in  after a decade of work

on his manuscript, stated that sweet oranges are ‘almost

always suitable for the stomach as a first course and the tart

ones may be sweetened with sugar’. As further proof, he


Johann Walther, Branch of Orange Tree in Bloom, Oranges and Shells, ,

gouache on vellum.

Postage stamp,

Turkey. The name

of the fruit on the

stamp – portakal

– reflects the

Portuguese role

in the journey

of the orange.

noted that Louis  gave sweet oranges from Provence to St

Francis in  as a gift ‘for the holy man who eats neither

fish nor meat’.

Horticulturalist Herbert John Webber, too, came down

on the side of an existing familiarity, suggesting that the sweet

orange reached Europe sometime in the early part of the

fifteenth century, probably through the commercial Genoese

trade routes from Arabia, Palestine and India.

If the sweet orange were at that time unknown to da

Gama, it would seem astonishing that he failed to describe

it as different from the known sorts. None of the travel-

ers of this epoch showed surprise at sight of this fruit, as

they did on seeing many others, from which it may be

deduced that they were already familiar with the sweet

orange and it was no longer a novelty.

The sixteenth-century Italian poet Andrea Navagero

described splendid sweet orange trees in the kitchen garden

of the king at Seville; and Webber noted that the historian-

monk Leandro Alberti referred to the sweet fruit of the

immense plantations of cultivated trees he saw in Sicily,


Calabria, Liguria and elsewhere in Italy in : ‘It is clearly

impossible that this extensive culture of the sweet orange in

Liguria at the beginning of the sixteenth century could have

come from the Portuguese importation, since that did not

take place earlier than the beginning of that century’ (perhaps

about ).

Whether these early ‘sweet’ oranges were actually sweet

or bittersweet will probably remain unclarified. The fact that

citrus fruit is generally known in Italy as agrumi (meaning sour

or tart fruit) points to the latter. However, Tolkowsky con-

tends that there was little distinction between sweet and sour

oranges in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries because they

were used as a condiment or medicinal agent, not as an eating

fruit. So it is perhaps possible that the Portuguese, post-Vasco

da Gama, only introduced a new – and better-tasting – variety

of sweet orange, not a new species. Nonetheless, it became

known as the ‘Portingall’ or Portugal orange, a term still echoed

In this British bowl from c. , a symbolic orange tree unites William 

and Princess Anne of Hanover.


James Gillray, The Orangerie or the Dutch Cupid Reposing after the Fatigues of

Planting, . In this hand-coloured etching William , Prince of Orange,

is depicted as a fat, naked Cupid reclining on a platform of grass and

flowers. He is leaning on a bag of money marked ‘,, ducats’.

In the foreground are a number of orange trees, with each orange bearing

a likeness of the prince.

in the Greek word portokalo and the Turkish portakal, then

increasingly as the China orange.

The impact was immense. The Chinese had taken citri-

culture to new heights, as witnessed by the Jesuit missionary

Alvaro Semedo in : ‘The oranges of Canton might well

be queens over our own, in fact some people hold that they

are not so much oranges as muscat grapes disguised.’

But what of the link between the fruit and the French

town of the same name? Tolkowsky is categorical: ‘There is

no other connection than that which exists between any two

homonyms, namely a purely accidental similarity of sound.’

The town became the possession of the German William of

Nassau, Prince of Orange, who founded the Dutch Republic

and the House of Orange and adopted the colour. In turn,


Inevitably the fruit

as well as the colour

became a symbol

of the House of

Orange-Nassau, as

evidenced by this

sculpture in the

market square of

the German town

of Oranienbaum.

this led to the naming of the Orange River in South Africa;

Cape Orange in Brazil; the Orangemen of Northern Ireland;

Orange, New Jersey; Orangeville; and more.

The connection between the fruit and the colour also has

its own story. An early Italian word for orange was melarancio

(fruit of the orange tree). From this came the Old French

orenge, adopted in turn by Middle English. According to the

Oxford English Dictionary, the words ‘orenge’ and ‘orange’


were first recorded in the fifteenth century; the colour orange

was usually referred to as ‘yellow-red’ or ‘tawny’ until the six-

teenth century, which saw the introduction of New World

pumpkins and Dutch ‘orange’ carrots. Mark Morton suggests

that a word for the colour was not necessary before then,

because ‘there weren’t many things in dreary medieval

England that actually needed to be described as orange’.

On his second voyage in , Columbus brought citrus

seeds to Haiti and the Caribbean. Robert Willard Hodgson

considers it likely that the Spanish took the bittersweet orange

to both Florida and South America, ‘for it was early found in

the former and occurs extensively in Paraguay where it com-

prises an important source of oil of petit grain’. Whatever

the species, the trees spread rapidly throughout the islands

and in Central and South America. One early visitor report-

ed that the oranges and lemons of Brazil were sweet and huge,

the size of two fists put together. The English poet Andrew

Marvell (‒) vividly described the trees in ‘Bermudas’

as ‘feral’ where ‘He hangs in shades the orange bright, / Like

golden lamps in a green night’. Soon, oranges and limes were

even being shipped back to Europe.

According to John F. Mariani, Hernando de Soto brought

the orange to St Augustine, Florida in . With the excep-

tion of a grower named Jesse Fish, who shipped an amazing

, oranges to England in , commercial plantings were

insignificant until , when the .. acquired Florida. By

, oranges were ubiquitous: a Dr Baldwin wrote,

You may eat oranges from morning to night at every

plantation along the shore [of the St Johns] while the

wild trees, bending with their golden fruit over the water,

present an enchanting appearance.


The orange reached California with the founding of the San

Diego Mission in , but the first grove of any consider-

able size was planted at the San Gabriel Mission in .

Citrus fruit soon became a key factor in promoting a life –

style image of sunshine and easy living to attract settlers to

the state.

Far away in the Dutch colony of Cape Town, oranges and

other fruit and vegetables were introduced from St Helena

by the colony’s first governor in , and in  oranges

were taken to New South Wales with the colonists of the

First Fleet.

Back in the Old World, Portuguese ports swarmed with

English traders; oranges were shipped in their tens of thou-

sands. In , Lord Burleigh owned a rare, single orange

tree; the same year, Sir Francis Carew brought a few from

France which he trained against a wall and sheltered with

boards and stoves in winter. Sir Walter Raleigh planted orange

Orange grove, St Johns River, Florida, . Once oranges were introduced

into Florida, the Spanish traded them with Native Americans. This led

to the spread of the naturalized trees along the river and inland. Some of

these feral oranges were later domesticated by American homesteaders who,

in turn, planted further groves.


Figure of an

orange seller

from Nider viller,

France, c. –.

The asso ci ation of

oranges with buxom

wenches was readily

embraced by artists

throughout Europe.

seeds in Surrey; the trees began bearing regular crops in ,

but were killed by cold in .

John Houghton noted that in seventeenth-century

London oranges were ‘carried in the eye of all about the streets,

we see they are very much consumed by the ordinary people’.

Trans portation difficulties and rotting, however, prevented

their wider availability. Like many other products past their best,

they were sold cheaply in the capital either from ‘moveable


shops that run upon wheels, attended by ill-looking Fellows’

or by flirtatious orange-girls in London’s theatres, epito-

mized by the pretty, witty Nell Gwyn, the mistress of Charles

. As Thomas D’Urfey acidly pointed out in the prologue to

his play The Comical History of Don Quixote (), ‘The orange-

miss that here cajoled the Duke, / May sell her rotten ware

without rebuke.’

Samuel Pepys recounted in his diary in  how Mrs

Jennings, a maid of honour, dressed as an orange wench to

the amusement of all until exposed by her expensive shoes

– although we don’t know if she also imitated the usual foul-

mouthed swearing.

It became increasingly fashionable for the well-to-do of

Europe to grow the orange tree even though its hardiness was

doubtful, hence Pepys’s comment on the ‘brave’ orange and

lemon trees in Lord Wotton’s garden two years later. Buying

costly imports or, better still, having the time, skill and space

to grow your own was an expensive and competitive game of

one-upmanship. It would result in some of the most extra –

ordinary pieces of garden architecture ever built. Especially

if you were the king of France.




Seville may be said to be still . . . the rendezvous of the most

picturesque blackguards in the south of Spain . . . [who]

know of heaven what they see of it through the golden juice

of an orange, as they lie on their backs in the cool shade,

a picture of contentment and sweet idleness.

John Lomas, ed., O’Shea’s Guide to Spain and

Portugal (London, )

Oranges, like jewels, need a setting. Nature provided the back –

cloth of glossy, jade leaves; it was left to man to construct

the mise-en-scène.

Citrus cultivation both challenges and inspires. Garden

design fused with horticultural function is a form of architec-

tural art that can be seen at its most elemental on Pantelleria,

off Sicily. The island has hot, dry summers with little rainfall;

strong winds prevent the trees from growing tall. The centuries-

old solution was to build striking lava-stone enclosures that act

as windshields, absorb night-time moisture, permit aeration

and support the soil.

The Arabs brought new crops, irrigation and land scap –

ing techniques to Al-Andalus, their state in parts of today’s

Spain, Portugal and France: groves of citrus marked their


Cathedral Mosque main entrance, as seen from the Los Naranjos patio in

Cordoba, Spain.

advancing path for several centuries. Islamic gardens were

made for rest and contemplation. Shade and water were the

key elements that provided refuge from the hostile world

outside their walls. These geometric gardens – a form of para –

dise on earth – have both sensuality and intellectual precision.

The great fourteenth-century Arab traveller Ibn Battuta

described the courtyard of the principal mosque of Malaga

as having an ‘unequalled beauty [with] exceptionally tall orange

trees’; in Granada, there are still oranges and lemons in the

hanging gardens of the Generalife, the summer palace of the

Nasrid emirs. Citrus was everywhere. One can only daydream

on reading the words of Lorenzo Valla, an Italian humanist,

on a visit to Valencia in the fifteenth century, ‘The most

remarkable thing, there are gardens not only composed entire-

ly of citrus trees, but with walls of citrus, so that you ask

yourself whether these are gardens or rooms.’

This enchanting indoor-outdoor image is mirrored in

the words of poet and playwright Félix Arturo Lope de Vega

(‒). Writing about the Duke of Alba’s beautiful

garden at Abadía, he describes how the fruit grows in both

winter and summer,

And the more the mountain is white with snow,

The more it prides itself upon its everlasting treasure . . .

On the farther side, along the shining river,

There are lanes clothed with orange trees

And portals ingeniously wrought of them.

Tuscany, however, was the cradle of the new Renaissance

garden; in Florence, the fashion for collecting citrus trees

became all the rage among patricians and wealthy merchants.

Botticelli’s Primavera (), for example, depicts Giuliano de’

Medici (or possibly Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici)


posing somewhat self-consciously in an orange grove, the

very model of gilded youth.

The Medici created one of the greatest European citrus

gardens in  at the Villa di Castello near Florence. The

orbs on their escutcheon have variously been interpreted as

pawnbrokers’ balls, apothecaries’ pills or, some say, oranges.

The garden was intended to reflect the power and status of the

family: a lunette painting of  shows the imposing house

flanked by regimented rows of trees. The villa still boasts

hundreds of potted citrus varieties, few of which are now

grown commercially, including the rare – and brilliantly named

– bizzarria of Florence.

The plants would have struggled without indoor winter

quarters which ensured citrus could survive in the Little Ice

Age even as far north as the Italian Lakes. The tradition is

still to put out the pots when the mulberries come into leaf.

The first structures were fairly basic with the trees protected

by straw or wattle fences, but in due course heating, insulation

and ventilation improved. To remove and set up again enclo-

sures and roofs, however, was very expensive, so the art of

raising trees in boxes developed further.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Giovanni

Pontano published De hortis Hesperidum, which advised plant-

ing fruit in wheel-mounted boxes that could be moved to

shelter or positioned around banquet tables as a pick-your-

own-dessert. In , the English botanist John Parkinson


For that purpose, some keepe them in great square boxes,

and lift them to and fro by iron hooks on the sides, or

cause them to be rowled by trundels, or small wheeles

under them, to place them in a house or close gallery.


Detail of Mercury holding a wand to an orange tree, from Sandro Botticelli,

La Primavera, , tempera on wood. The painting shows Venus in the

centre of an orange grove that represents love and fertility.

Horticulturalists around Northern Europe went to

great lengths to protect their fragile trees. In the prosperous

town of Nuremberg, the silk merchant Johann Christoph

Volck amer (–) commissioned the three-volume

Nurem berg Hesperides with etchings based on the citrus fruit

he himself raised or had sent from Italy. He also described


the old wooden, winter Pomeranzen houses ( Pomeranze is the

German word for sour orange) with roofs insulated with straw

and loam.

This impulse to grow citrus in unsuitable climates had a

curious parallel several centuries later during the Communist

rule of Hungary in the s. The authorities wanted a domes-

tic crop to replace expensive imported fruit, so trees were

planted in deep trenches on the south-facing slopes of Lake

Balaton with the notion of covering them completely in

winter. Alas, the project was spectacularly unsuccessful, but

it did inspire the name of a satirical political magazine, Magyar

Narancs (Hungarian Oranges).

In the seventeenth century new developments in Dutch

technology enabled the production of expanses of clear glass.

This changed the architectural scene dramatically, and the

buildings became increasingly ornate to reflect the exotic

plants they housed. Citrus trees were proof of wealth, and the

orangery a major status symbol in the homes of the European

Jan van der Goyen (‒), Oranje-stoove, engraving. In the th century,

systems of heating orangeries and cossseting the trees became ever more

elaborate, and an object of interest for aspirational householders.


The Orangery, Potsdam, Berlin, c. –.

rich and fashionable. Up to the nineteenth century their design

grew ever more ostentatious, flaunting fabulous fountains,

grottos and other fantastical features.

Oranges were a favourite decorative motif in interior

design: they proliferated across indoor garden scenes, friezes,

frescoes, bas relief and metal doors. The glazed terracotta

sculptures of the della Robbia family in Florence character-

istically used oranges and lemons as well as apples, nuts,

foliage and flowers.

After the French king Charles  returned in  from

his disastrous wars in Italy with an enthusiasm for the palaces

and gardens of that country, he employed a Neapolitan garden

designer to build a large orangery at the chateau of Amboise.

Soon after, François  commissioned one for Blois. The

competition to build the biggest and the best had begun.

It all came down to money. Olivier de Serres (‒

), in a classic seventeenth-century treatise on French agri –

culture, pointedly wrote,


Oranges, citrons, lemons and other suchlike valuable

fruit trees flourish in any climate, provided one is ready

to incur the necessary expenditure . . . It is in truth a

sport for princes and noblemen to grow these excellent

trees in a climate that is contrary to their nature: a luxury,

therefore, that is more easily admired than copied.

Few, however, could ever aspire to equal the ne plus ultra

of orangeries, that of Versailles. Built by Jules Hardouin-

Mansart for Louis  on plans submitted by André Le Nôtre,

it was conceived on an epic, money-no-object scale to project

an image of absolute monarchy; like the rest of the gardens,

it showcased the skills of the seventeenth-century’s greatest

artists and scientists. The king had a passion for citrus and his

gardeners developed techniques to obtain blossom year-

round. Waverley Root observed that the , orange trees in

silver tubs were for show rather than food since Louis, away

The orangery at Versailles, s–s, photographed by Francis Frith.


Jean-Baptiste Hilaire, Orange-picking, , pen and black ink, gouache and

watercolour . This picture depicts the Jardin du Roi, a Paris garden created

by Louis ’s doctor and opened to the public in .

at the wars, wrote to his minister, ‘Let me know what effect the

orange trees at Versailles are making.’ Pyramids of oranges,

apples and pears were à la mode as table decor.

The Versailles orangery took nearly ten years to build but

became the talk and envy of the aristocratic world, the venue

for garden parties and masked balls. Court historian André

Félibien described the heady setting in :

Their majesties would stroll through these highly scent-

ed, bosky thickets. Like a labyrinth, there were many

pathways – one lined with ‘Portuguese’ oranges, anoth-

er with bitter orange and cherry trees. Others were bor-

dered by apricots and peaches, Dutch redcurrants and

different sorts of pear trees.

Legend has it that one of the trees at Versailles dated

back nearly  years to a cutting originally sent by the queen


of Navarre to Queen Anne of Bretagne. It was known as the

Grand Bourbon and continued to blossom and bear fruit until

its death in . In winter, the orangery still houses more

than , trees in traditional Versailles planters with hinged

sides; from May to October, they are put outdoors in the

Parterre Bas.

The orangery at the Schönbrunn in Vienna rivals Versailles

in size. Built in , it was more than a Baroque winter home

for potted plants: the trees were illuminated as a setting for

spectacular royal parties and imperial festivities. The German

town of Oranienbaum (where a bronze orange tree in the

marketplace symbolizes the House of Orange) also boasts

one of the longest orangeries in Europe.

In , the Saxon Elector August the Strong had plans

for a voluptuous new dream palace in Dresden. He began

with the lavish, decadent orangery, named Zwinger because of

its location. It included a theatre, waterfall, Nymphenbad (a

fountain surrounded by statues of nymphs), swimming pool

and banqueting space to give guests the impression that they

were dining and dancing in the middle of an orange grove. The

trees were housed in ornate blue-and-white Ming pots.

However, August ran out of funds and after his death in 

plans were scaled down and the complex was only completed

around a century later.

It was a bitter end – and all for the love of an orange.




The orange tree rivals all for beauty; no other quite has its

captivating combination of glamorous green leaves, glow –

ing fruit and wax-white star-shaped flowers with extravagant

scent. They can live for up to a century and produce hundreds

of fruits, but orange trees are sub-tropical plants requiring

warmth to survive, no frost and large amounts of water.

Depending on the variety, the fruits can remain for some

time on the tree once mature, but will not ripen any further

after picking.

Citrus belongs to the rue family ( Rutaceae) and, botanically,

the fruit is a berry called a hesperidium, but the problem is

trying to determine exactly what is being defined. It is the

most confusing of fruit. Partly this is to do with its misty

history, partly to do with language and taxonomy, and partly

to do with the wide and intricate range of species and varieties,

spontaneous mutations, cultivated hybrids and crosses that

typify the clan.

There have been numerous attempts at classification. Two

of the most notable took opposing approaches: the Amer –

ican botanist Walter Tennyson Swingle lumped similar types

together and gave them one species name; T. Tanaka looked

at every slight variation and ‘split’ them into differently named


species. More recently, David Mabberley has gained wide

acceptance for a new classification of edible citrus into three

species: citron ( Citrus medica), merril pomelo ( C. maxima) and

blanco mandarin ( C. reticulata).

In this system, grapefruit ( C. paradisi) is a cross between

the pomelo and sweet orange; lemons ( C. limon) derive from

the citron and sour orange; and limes ( C. aurantifolia) appear

to be a hybrid of papeda, an Asian citrus fruit, and citron.

Pomelo crossed with mandarin produced both sour ( C. auran-

tium) and sweet oranges ( C. sinensis), each inheriting more

features of one parent than the other.

In , a Chinese team uncovered the genome sequence

of the sweet orange, a move they hope will improve citrus traits

such as colour, taste, yield and disease resistance.

Sour/Bitter Oranges ( C. aurantium)

The above terms are largely interchangeable, but strictly

speaking ‘sour’ refers to the acidity of the flesh, and ‘bitter’

to the essential oils. The trees are compact and upright with

long, dark green leaves and in appropriate conditions have an

extraordinary ability to survive with no care at all. Some trees

in Spain are said to be over  years old.

Typically, the blossom is highly aromatic and the fruit

radiant red-orange with thick, dimpled skin, a large petiole

(leafstalk), abundant seeds and an astringent taste. It is used as

a rootstock as well as in marmalade. The principal variety

grown is the Seville. In Japan and China it is known as daidai

and taitai respectively and has a more dwarfish habit. High in

pectin, it is the citrus of choice for marmalade, and the 

supply comes almost totally from Spain around February each

year. Oddly, it seems almost impossible to buy bitter oranges


Vincenzo Leonardi, Sour Orange, Flowering Twigs and Fruits, , watercolour.

in Seville itself, the principal producing area, although I have

picked them from the roadside.

In the nineteenth century,  varieties of bitter orange

were described in Europe. Today, the most prominent sub-

species are the bergamot, grown in Calabria for the rind oil

used in perfume, Earl Grey tea and candied peel, and the

myrtle leaf or chinotto, traditionally crystallized whole in

Provençal towns such as Apt, and used in the Italian soda of

that name as well as in Campari.

Intriguing relatives include bizzarria (an eye-catching bi-

colour, intermingling or ‘chimera’ of bitter orange and either

lemon or citron); the bouquetier types (used in neroli oils

and perfumes); corniculata (with a strange, raised ‘horn’); and

fasciata (striped yellow and orange).

The Seville is also called bigarade in French, a name that

overlaps with another variety, the bittersweet ( C. aurantium

var. bigaradia), which lives up to its name and is notable for its

lack of acidity.

Bergamot oranges with peeled skin. The pith and peel of the bergamot is

particularly thick and the latter yields a spicy-sweet essential oil much used

in perfumery.


Sweet Oranges ( C. sinensis)

The capo of the citrus family. No other is so widely grown

and used except, arguably, in the Far East where mandarins still

rule. It is the second most commonly cultivated fruit in the

world, eclipsed only by the banana. The plant scientist Robert

Willard Hodgson divided the category into four: common,

sugar/acidless, navel and blood.

There are scores of major and minor ‘common’ oranges,

new and old. It seems a rather belittling name, although they

also used to be (and sometimes still are) referred to as white

or blonde to distinguish them from the blood orange.

The Valencia is the world’s most important commercial

orange, with large, vigorous trees suitable for a wide range of

climates and soils. Late to mature, the prolific, thin-skinned

fruit is virtually seedless (although a seeded variety is grown

in Brazil and Australia) and lives up to its nickname, ‘The

King of Juice Oranges’.

The variety probably came into Portuguese possession

from China via the Azores. An English nurseryman, Thomas

Rivers, catalogued it in  under the name Excelsior, and

subsequently supplied trees to clients in California and Florida.

The name Valencia is misleading: the fruit does not originate

in Valencia, Spain, as is commonly assumed, but was named

in its new home of California when it was deemed to resem-

ble a late-maturing Old World orange by a homesick Spanish

visitor. The fruit became known as both Hart’s tardiff and

Valencia late, and then simply Valencia.

There are many sweet varieties, including hamlin (possi-

bly the world’s principal variety of very early maturing juice

orange); harward late (New Zealand); kona (introduced to

Hawaii in ), midknight (from South Africa); Parson Brown

(an ‘early’ Florida juice orange); pera (a widely grown Brazilian


Oranges for sale at a street market in Rio, Brazil. In Brazil and other tropical

countries, some oranges are ripe despite their green or greenish-yellow

colour. The heat preserves the chlorophyll like a natural sunscreen, but in

more temperate regions, the green skin turns orange when the weather cools.

Arabs and Jews packing oranges together in Rehovoth, Israel, –.

fruit); pineapple (grown in Florida for its fine juice); and salus-

tiana (a comparatively new Spanish variety discovered in a

convent garden).

The shamouti, Palestine Jaffa or Cyprus oval originated

around  near Jaffa, then part of the Ottoman Empire. It

was a limb sport or mutation of the local, seedy beledi strain.

The thick, leathery rind peels easily to reveal brilliant, seedless

flesh with a succulent flavour. Orange exports grew from

, oranges in  to  million by . In , around

, wooden crates were imported into Britain where they

gave their name to the little chocolate and orange sponge

cakes still popular today. The orange gardens have disappeared

but in the alleyways of Jaffa, there is a striking sculpture by the

Israeli environmental artist, Ran Morin, called Orange Suspendu,

which makes the connection between the city, the land and

the fruit. Israeli producers have sold shamouti budwood to

Spanish growers who can use the Jaffa name (which is an


Israeli trademark) for this fruit. The trademark also covers

other citrus and orange varieties: I have also bought Jaffa

oranges grown in South Africa.

Shiranui (or dekopon) is one of the newest citrus kids on

the block. The fruit is large, easy to peel and seedless with a

distinctive ‘topknot’ that gives it its American name, sumo (in

Brazil they are called kinsei). Developed as a Japanese tangor-

mandarin hybrid, they have a persuasive aroma and a melting

texture but the ridiculously expensive one I tasted in New

York on their  debut there had a saccharine sweetness.

Although the skin looks thick and tough, it quickly bruises, so

the fruit is marketed in padded boxes.

Sugar/Acidless Oranges

These oranges lack acid and have an insipid, sugary flavour

enjoyed in many Arabic-speaking countries, and to a certain

extent in Spain, Portugal and Italy. As a consequence they are

still cultivated locally to some degree, but not exported.

Vainiglia is pink-fleshed, juicy, sweet and slightly bitter.

Navel Oranges

Large and easy to peel, navel oranges have an excellent fla –

vour; the juice is delicious when freshly squeezed but, unlike

that of the Valencia, quickly becomes bitter. In Hesperides, a

seventeenth-century compendium of , citrus varieties,

the Jesuit priest Giovanni Battista Ferrarius observed: ‘This

orange imitates to some extent the fertility of the tree which

bears it in that it struggles, though unsuccessfully, to produce

the fruit upon itself.’ The description effectively encapsulates


‘ – A Carload of Mammoth Navel Oranges from California’, c. ,


the embryonic fruit-within-a-fruit and protruding ‘navel’ that

is its essential characteristic.

There are many varieties, but the most well known is the

Washington or Bahia navel; its origins are unclear but it is

most likely a cross-bud variation from the Brazilian variety

known as selecta. In the nineteenth century, a Presbyterian mis-

sionary sent twelve nursery-sized trees to the  Department

of Agriculture () in Washington where they were propa-

gated under glass. Offered to anyone who cared to give them

a go, a few were supplied to Eliza Tibbets in the new colony

of Riverside, California. She tended the trees carefully, reput-

edly using dishwater to keep them alive, and they were to

become the founding fruit of the state’s industry. By ,

Riverside was the wealthiest city per capita in the ..

Remarkably, one of the trees was transplanted to its

present location in downtown Riverside, where it survives in

defiance of all passing traffic. Its job was done: the semi-arid

climatic conditions of the area led to a fruit of superior


Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree, Riverside, c. . Now a national

landmark, the tree is one of two that were originally given to Eliza Tibbets

in , propagated from trees imported from Bahia, and from which all

Washington Navel oranges in California descended.

quality and rapid commercialization, although most of the

citrus groves have now relocated to the Central Valley, where

land is cheaper and water more readily available.

Contemporary varieties include cara cara (a very sweet,

pink-red fleshed navel discovered in Venezuela); fukumoto

(introduced into California from Japan); lane late (a late-

maturing Australian fruit); navelate (paler than Washington

with a less prominent navel); and navelina (an early-maturing

fruit mostly grown in Spain), plus a whole raft of more

recent late-maturing navel orange selections from Australia.


A couple of Californian companies such as LoBue Citrus

and Sky Valley continue to grow heirloom navel oranges on

trees planted in the s. They have an excellent flavour, but

are limited in supply.

Blood Oranges

A romantic but unlikely story links blood oranges with the

Crusades; more probably the thorny trees were a seven-

teenth-century mutation originating in Sicily and, possibly,

Malta. James Saunt suggests, however, that they are, like

navel oranges, indigenous to China. In , scientists iden-

tified the anthocyanin pigment gene (nicknamed Ruby) that

makes blood oranges ‘bloody’. The pigment is associated

with cardiovascular health, but only comes out in the fruit’s

flesh when grown in places with extremes of sun and cold.

Certain areas of Sicily provide just the right conditions – and

researchers also found evidence that one blood orange variety

arose independently in China.

Wherever, and however, they originate – heaven, perhaps

– they are the most captivating of fruit. Their aesthetic shadings

are marvels of natural beauty, matched by an equally distinctive

fragrance and ambrosial berry taste. Part of their allure and

fascination is the fact that each one displays slightly different,

marbled combinations of skin, flesh and juice pigmentation

and colouring. The variations are endless, even from fruit from

the same tree, picked on the same day.

‘Sanguine’, a languorous Jacques Prévert poem, alludes

to the inherent sexual appeal of the fruit but, more prosaically,

in the past their lack of uniformity has meant they have not

fitted the standardization demanded by the mass market.

Thankfully, the Arancia Rossa di Sicilia is  protected bt the


Sliced blood orange. The Arancia Rossa di Sicilia have protected geographical

status. They are utterly delicious and also boast the highest vitamin C content

of all oranges in the world.

 and comprises three varieties that can only be grown in a

strictly limited area south of Mount Etna: sanguinello, moro

and tarocco.

Sanguinello is an ancient variety with two derivatives,

sanguinello moscata (also known as Paterno after the near-

by town) and sanguinello moscata cuscuna. Moro has the

flavours of ripe cherry and passion fruit and pulp of a strik-

ing hue that can vary from scarlet to burgundy or almost

black. The Sicilian tarocco is, in my view, arguably the world’s

finest orange; the distinctive colour of the flesh is a natural

mutation that needs a chilly winter to develop properly, but

it has a perfect blend of raspberry-rich sweetness and acid-

ity. It is sold under the name Volcano Oranges® in the ..

Blood oranges are also grown in California, Texas and Florida

– although whether their quality matches the Italian is a matter

of opinion.


Other varieties include sanguinelli (a seedy, dark Spanish

blood orange that is a derivative of doblefina, once the prin-

cipal blood orange in Spain) and Maltaise sanguine (Cape Bon,

near Tunis, is said to produce fruit of the highest quality –

Saunt agrees with the French, who call this semi-blood variety

‘Queen of Oranges’).


Citrus fruits are almost wantonly promiscuous: they repro-

duce easily with each other and many crosses and mutations

are known, both natural and man-made, within genera as

well as species. In some cases, they are self-pollinating and

are also able to produce fruit and fertile seed without sexual


Citrus has always inspired the experimental. The desire

to cross, breed and create new forms combines the sense of

divine creation with empirical curiosity. There are constant

surprises, as it does not always breed true from seed. The

most effective way to ensure consistency is by grafting the

selected scion onto a rootstock, a technique that has been

around since ancient times. The Geoponica, a tenth-century

Byzantine farming manual, includes instructions on how

to make citrons black or red by grafting onto apple and

mulberry trees respectively, and how to form them into the

shape of birds, animals or human faces. Perhaps best not

taken too literally, it also suggests making apples red by urinat-

ing on the tree . . .

The introduction of grafting into commercial planting

in the mid- to late nineteenth century was a way of prevent-

ing disease as well as improving quality. The sour orange

was the favoured rootstock until the outbreak of the tristeza


virus. Modern innovations include in vitro grafting (grafting a shoot tip from a mature plant onto a seedling rootstock).

Commercial breeders aim for improved yield, better

storage qualities, attractive appearance and tastier flavours,

but the goal of another group, often amateurs, is to produce

a frost-hardy citrus plant with sweet, edible fruit. It is said

that such growers usually start with Poncirus trifoliata, a decid-

uous, cold-resistant citrus relative, and invariably fail in their

endeavours. Nature still rules, .

Various hybrids have become fully fledged members of

the citrus family. Tangors are a mandarin (tangerine) and

sweet orange cross, with varieties such as temple, dweet,

Ellendale, umatilla and murcott. The latter has such thin

peel, it is clipped, rather than pulled, from the tree. Juicy

and complex with a pockmarked skin and brief season,

temples are believed to have come from the West Indies to

Florida early in the twentieth century. Ortaniques, some-

times called honey tangerines, are natural tangors, reputedly

found on Jamaica around . Mineolas are often thought

by the public to be oranges, although they are a cross between

tangerines and grapefruit: the offspring provide a good illus-

tration of how cross-breeding can produce an unexpectedly

rich, tart and aromatic result.

The naming of hybrids is as romantic and alluring as the

complexity of the fruit itself. Ambersweet is part orange,

clementine, mandarin and grapefruit; volkamer a lemon-sour

orange hybrid that originated in Italy. Chironja is a sweet

orange and grapefruit cross found as a wild seedling in Puerto

Rico, eaten like a grapefruit but sweeter and brighter. Citrange

is a cross between a sweet orange and Poncirus trifoliata: when

crossed in turn with a kumquat, the result is the magnificent-

ly named citrangequat – one can see why the whole business

soon becomes so bewitching and bewildering.


Citrology can become a magnificent obsession. In his time

at the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, Huang Ah-hsien

developed around  different varieties, but his last project

before retirement in  was to breed the world’s largest

orange – The King. It is said to weigh g on average, and is

as wide as your face. It is seemingly more mega-mandarin

than supersized orange, but it has nonetheless gained its

creator, known by his students as the ‘God of Citrus’, a place

in citrus history.



Business and Trade

Oranges have circled the world in the wake of wars, conquest,

trade and botanical quests. The market is still dominated by

the established producers, but new orange-growing countries

are springing up from Swaziland to Cuba. Citrus commerce

may be founded on a gift from the gods, but business is

business. And oranges are big business, indeed.

For centuries, scarcity and cost restricted them to the

households of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The two main

factors that brought the fruit within reach of the middle, then

the working classes were the development of steam power

and the invention of artificial refrigeration.

The American fashion for citrus in the nineteenth century

spurred the export of oranges from Sicily’s legendary Conca

d’Oro valley, a move that was intriguingly bound up with the

history of the Mafia. In the mid-s, according to John

Dickie, ‘an astonishing . million cases of Italian citrus fruit

arrived in New York every year, most of them from Palermo’.

The California and Florida citrus industries, however,

were soon to speed ahead as trade was boosted by the build-

ing of the railroads, improved shipping, new agricultural and

plant-breeding techniques, irrigation advances and innova-

tive marketing ideas – not to mention sheer, hard labour.


A train comes through the orange groves in Florida, –. The coming

of the railroads was crucial to the rapid development of the citrus industry,

enabling growers to send fruit quickly and efficiently across the country.

In , the Wolfskill orchards sent the first train carrying

nothing but oranges from California to the East Coast, but

as the century came to a close, the Californian industry faced

major problems: a land boom, oversupply, domination by

the railroad powers and pest blight. The growers could not

afford to destroy the orchards, but they couldn’t stop the

fruit ripening either. To gain more bargaining power, they

set up co-operatives such as the California Fruit Growers

Exchange (). The problem was that they either had to

find a way of storing the fruit or make people eat more.

Advertis ing was the answer, and in the process of building

mass consumption of this ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ fruit, they also

sold California as the quintessential sunshine state.

Business boomed, helped by an increased awareness of

nutrition; oranges were sold as a cure for all ills. By the end

of the s, Californian citrus farmers earned four times

the average American income. Riverside became a swanky

town of grand mansions and parks, and the  expanded


Scenes among the orange growers in Orange County, Florida, , black

and white photoprint.

Orange Ball display at California Orange Week, c. . The annual festival

of the citrus industry was one of the social events of the year.

into a huge, vertically integrated industry with its own forests

to provide timber for the crates. They even had international

sales offices. In , they launched their own brand, Sunkist,

a first for fresh fruit, and poured money into marketing. The

catchphrase was ‘Oranges for Health, California for Wealth’.

Gradually, however, overproduction again became a prob-

lem. To regulate the price, ‘golden mountains’ of surplus

oranges were destroyed, a shocking act during the Depression

that was powerfully denounced by John Steinbeck in The Grapes

of Wrath ().

The mild, sunny climate of the West Coast suits the pro-

duction of navel oranges; by contrast, Valencias do better in

the sandy soil and hot, damp climate of Florida. Family juice

stands once flourished there like flocks of flamingos along


Freda Jones of Portland, Oregon, picking oranges, .

the state highways, especially in the Indian River region.

Thousands have disappeared since the s, victims of dis-

asters, diseases, commercial development and the pressures

of a big, globalized industry.

In the commercial golden age of citrus, the fruit was

packed in crates with brilliant labels or even individually


wrapped in coloured tissue paper. As oranges morphed from

luxury item to daily staple, taste became a lesser priority,

however, against the need for consistency, conformity and

good looks. Before long the model of co-operative settler

communities would be replaced by mega-corporations and

big business.

Developments in cold storage and maritime transport

enabled the southern hemisphere to enter the export market,

so the north could enjoy the classic fruit of winter year round.

Brazil, particularly the state of São Paulo, is the world’s largest

producer of oranges, most of which are processed for juice.

Per hectare, it is more profitable than coffee or wheat. Large-

scale production and logistics underpin the Brazilian success,

but the pressure for low costs has led to dubious practices in

the past. A study in  found growers in Brazil (also Chile

and Ecuador) hired underage labourers to pick the oranges.

The situation did improve over the following decade, but a

further report in November  recognized that although

Sparkman’s Orange Shop, Sumterville, Florida, s. Mom ’n’ pop

businesses offered fresh fruit and juice to tourists. The fruit could also

be shipped north as gift baskets.


former president Lula da Silva had made significant efforts

to reduce extreme poverty and child labour, ‘The issue still

remains urgent . . . Especially in the poorer northeastern part

of the country, many children have no choice but to become

integrated into the illegal job market.’

Not that adult workers necessarily fare much better. In

, Brazilian unions estimated that  per cent of the ,

orange pickers in São Paulo earned less than the minimum

wage, and half did not receive legally required benefits. The

issue, however, is not unique to South America, and despite

experiments with picking machines (the drawback is they

can only be used on trees where the whole crop ripens simul-

taneously) hand-picking remains the best way to harvest,

particularly for table oranges.

An old slogan for the Florida Citrus Commission claimed

that ‘A day without orange juice is like a day without sunshine’,

but in the land of opportunity the reality of agricultural labour

is often far from sunny. A poem of , ‘The Orange Picker’

by David Ignatow, is a disenchanted juxtaposition of the heraldic

orange banner of the groves seen from afar compared to the

hard, close-up reality of picking them – ‘these oranges have

failed me’. The campaigns by labour leader and civil rights

activist César Chávez led to numerous improvements for Latino

farmworkers in California, but the issue of illegal migrants,

victims of harsh conditions and substandard wages, remains

contentious as the recent documentary film La Cosecha (The

Harvest, ) forcibly demonstrated.

In , an investigation by a Florida newspaper found

migrant workers were paid only . cents per half-gallon of

fresh juice that typically retailed for $.. In the citrus groves,

as in many other parts of .. agriculture, it’s often a race to the

bottom for a cheaper production process, especially in an

industry squeezed by imports, increased costs and falling


Picking oranges, . In the early days of the industry, harvesters climbed

ladders and pulled the fruits off by hand, putting them into pails or shoulder

sacks. Clippers were introduced in .

demand. Balancing immigration controls and workers’ rights

with the need for labour remains a tricky goal.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers () argues that

there is a continuum of systematic abuse that ranges from

‘sweat shop’ conditions, including sub-poverty wages, no

right to overtime pay, and no right to organize, through to


A migrant

orange picker,

Polk County,

Florida, .

‘modern-day slavery’ with captive farmworkers held against

their will through threats and even the actual use of violence.

Their travelling museum documents the appalling present-

day conditions of slave labourers: astonishingly, since the

mid-s more than , slaves have been freed in at least

six cases in Florida.

Equally, the  point to the responsibility of agribusiness

in controlling the ‘demand’ side of the .. produce market,

the major food-buying corporations that profit from the

artificially-low cost of .. produce picked by workers in

sweatshop and, in the worst cases, slavery conditions.


Ultimately, those modern mega corporations must lever-

age their vast resources and market influence as major

produce buyers to clean up slavery and other labor abuses

in their supply chains once and for all.

A recent investigation into the squalid living conditions of

citrus workers in Calabria also alleged that African migrant

labourers were earning very low wages picking oranges

to supply juice concentrates to multinational companies.

The price of oranges was so low, it was reported, that many

farmers left their crops to rot on the tree.

There are other problems: frost at the wrong time of the

year, for example, can be seriously damaging. Burners or

‘smudge pots’ have been used to heat the groves on frosty

nights, and some growers use giant fans to mix the cold low

air with the warmer air above. Another method of heating is

to turn on the water sprinklers: as long as freezing water is

in contact with the fruit, its temperature cannot fall below

zero, since the water releases heat as it freezes. This works

for a short-lived cold snap, but if it stays below freezing, the

Florida Modern Slavery Museum truck. The museum consists of a cargo

truck outfitted as a replica of those involved in a st-century slavery

operation, developed in consultation with workers who have escaped from

forced labour conditions.


Oscar Lewis spraying the orange grove, Lakeland, Florida.

oranges will freeze too. Other strategies, according to the

University of Arizona, include covering small trees, stringing

the trees with lights and maintaining soil moisture, as well as

care in initial variety, rootstock and site selection.

Disease is also a constant concern: fruit flies can devas-

tate an industry, and ‘citrus greening’ spread by the Asian

citrus psyllid poses a particular nightmare scenario. The

disease, named after the sour, green, misshapen fruit it gives

rise to, has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops in

the .. and elsewhere. It entered Florida early in the twenty-

first century, and recent data showed that  per cent of trees

were infected, with the rate doubling annually. Despite

strict controls and quarantine regulations, in March , the

deadly citrus disease was detected in Los Angeles County in

a residential neighbourhood, probably introduced via an ille-

gally imported bud. There is currently no confirmed cure to a

problem that has been described as akin to trying to get rid


of the mosquito, although the industry is pouring millions

into research.

Management and containment of the problem includes

constant inspection, removal of infected trees and control of

the insects, each no bigger than the head of a pin, which

spread the virus. As a result, some farmers douse their crops

with a heavy wash of pesticide or ‘nutritional spray programs’

which, Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas warn, could ‘turn the

environment into a poisonous morass’, and leaves infected

trees in place. On the other hand, some farmers believe that

higher crop yields have been an unexpected side benefit of

the enhanced foliar nutrition.

Chemicals may provide one remedy, but not every grower

wants to use more of them – and scientists are now rethink-

ing the efficacy of such a ‘scorched earth’ tree destruction

policy. One strategy has been to establish new varieties of

oranges and trees; scientists at Cornell are working on genet-

ically engineering a tree that shows resistance to the virus. In

Texas, work is advancing on genetic modification using

spinach genes. The University of Florida is evaluating silver

mulch as a shiny, visually disruptive control, and in California,

tiny, stingless parasitic wasps have been released into the envir –

onment as a natural enemy of the psyllid.

From the consumer’s standpoint, however, buying organ-

ic oranges is the best way to ensure that the fruit has been

cultivated without pesticides or dyes that match the fruit to our

mental image of the ideal orange. Fairtrade oranges offer a

small but fast-growing niche market: in South Africa, for

example, there are over twenty producers who grow certified

citrus. So, when in doubt, buy Fairtrade juice – or squeeze

your own from organic Fairtrade oranges.

The trade in oranges and orange juice is interlinked. We

take it for granted, but it was not always the case.



Orange Juice

‘Is the orange juice fresh?’, I asked a waitress in a Liverpool

restaurant. ‘Oh, yes,’ she replied, ‘I’ve just opened the packet.’

It is easy to laugh at this story, and equally easy to iden-

tify with it. The orange is both a fruit to eat – and to drink.

Think fruit juice, think orange juice, and the word ‘fresh’ is

not far behind. It is the most popular processed juice in the

world, and although sales may have dipped in recent years

as a result of a slow economy, poor harvests, rising prices

and alternative options, many think breakfast sans  is no

breakfast at all.

Writer and historian Margaret Visser describes drinking

the juice of a fruit as a quite different experience from that

of eating it: ‘[It is] the refined and luxurious essence of the

thing, produced by previously performed fastidious effort,

like de-boned chicken or strained consommé.’ Alas, such an

exquisite homage to the fruit of the Hesperides has been

lost in the thickets of urban Tetrapacks.

Orange juice has travelled a long way in every sense.

Constantly reinventing itself, it has gone from a product of

nature to a global industrial commodity, traded on the New

York Stock Exchange, and even shot into outer space as

powdered Tang.


Margaret Thatcher

drinking orange

juice on  October

, the morning

after the midnight

revelation that

Trade and Industry

Secretary Cecil

Parkinson was to

be the father of his

secretary’s baby.

Most commercial juices appear to tell a story that sug-

gest they’re nothing more than squeezed fruit poured into

the packet. Yet the mass-market product is standardized,

industrialized and globalized. Unlike the description by

John McPhee of how the colour of the fresh juice he

bought at Penn Station each morning deepened over the

seasons, the reality is a tale of technical wizardry and mar-

keting savvy. When it comes to the dark arts of advertising,

freshness is relative: the only truly fresh juice is the one you

squeeze yourself.

A drop in the price of West Indian sugar in the seven-

teenth century opened up the consumption in Paris of


lemonade. Orangeade followed but was less popular, and

limonade became the general term for all drinks made of sugar

water and aromatic scents such as jasmine, mace, carnations

and orange blossom.

Always one to spot a trend, Pepys recorded how he drank

a pint of orange juice in : ‘they drink the juice as wine, with

sugar, and it is a very fine drink; but, it being new, I was doubt-

ful whether it might not do me hurt.’ A little later, another

popular drink, orgeat, made with almonds and orange-flower

water, became a favourite in eighteenth-century London

refreshment houses and pleasure gardens.

However, it was another  years until the idea of mar-

keting orange juice commercially was put into practice – in

California. When growers facing a glut began to cut down

trees, Sunkist came up with the sensationally successful slogan

‘Drink an Orange’. Residue waste was used for by-products

such as cattle feed, but sales would never have grown without

other factors: efficient distribution by railroad and truck, the

increased perception of orange juice as nutritious and the

introduction of the flash pasteurization process to prolong

shelf life.




Full o’ Juice

crate poster,

early th century.


The bulk processed market, however, was really created

in Florida in the first half of the twentieth century, when

they began seriously to pulp, reduce and first can, then

freeze the plentiful fruit to sell year-round as  (frozen

concentrate orange juice). It became hugely profitable, sub-

sequently spurred on also by the need to supply vitamin  to

the troops in the thick of the Second World War.

Growers and producers had to deal with a very different

problem in the s, however, when severe frosts ruined

harvests. The Florida Department of Citrus decided to sup-

port the relatively new industry in Brazil to ensure a source

of supply. Growth was phenomenal: there may be an awful

lot of coffee in Brazil, but now there is an awful lot of orange

juice as well. Brazil is the world’s largest  producer, and

most is exported.

Today, unless it expressly says so on the label, a carton of

Florida-packed juice is unlikely to have come from  per

cent .. oranges. Concentrate juice will probably be a blend

of Floridian, Brazilian, Mexican and others. In , however,

there were signs that this situation was changing when PepsiCo

announced that it was returning to using only oranges from

Florida in its Tropicana Pure Premium juices. None the less,

for every five glasses of orange juice consumed worldwide, it

has been estimated that three are produced in Brazil, a figure

which is unlikely to change dramatically. As Saudi Arabia is

to oil, Brazil is to .

Brazil has succeeded through efficiency, extensive plant-

ing, technological know-how and integrated supply chains. In

the early s, the four biggest Brazilian processors acquired

plants in Florida. A decade later, they controlled nearly half the

processing capacity in the state. As Jason Clay has written, ‘The

expansion of the Brazilian orange processing industry into

Florida has been very calculating.’


In , the Brazilian citrus industry moved into 

(Not From Concentrate) juice, a sector developed years ear-

lier in Florida. It was a sign of things to come. In Santos, São

Paolo, Citrosuco now operates the largest  terminal in the

world, from which they export premium  juice and bulk

 (cheaper to transport as it takes up less space), as well

as one in Ghent, Belgium, which is the first in the world to

receive and distribute bulk aseptic . When the first ship-

ment was made in  it was hailed as a new era in the ocean

transport of juice.

For over  years, the Florida citrus industry was pro-

tected from overseas competition by financial barriers, but

the state’s Equalization Tax was discontinued in , and

in  an anti-dumping challenge on .. tariff duties was

settled by the  in favour of Brazil. A year later, however,

Florida Citrus Mutual, the country’s largest citrus grower

organi zation, filed a petition to reinstate the duty. Another

row broke out when Florida growers claimed that Brazil was

circumventing duty by shipping their product first to

Canada, then to the .. The year  also saw a merger

approved between the giant Citrovita and Citrosuco groups

in a bid for them to become the world’s largest wholesale

supplier of orange juice.

The impact all this is likely to have on the Florida indus-

try is uncertain; some have predicted it will be crushed, others

that it will be hurt (especially small producers) but not

destroyed. Early in , global consumer confidence was

damaged by controversy surrounding the use of the fungi-

cide Carbendazim in exported Brazilian orange juice. The

fungicide is used in limited quantities in Europe, but the

.. banned its use in . Domestic juice producers in the ..

attempted to use the scare to their advantage but, as Brazilian

oranges make up around  per cent of global exports, prices


sky-rocketed. In response to .. concerns, Brazil subse-

quently announced that it too was dropping use of the

chemical on its citrus crops.

The past decade has also seen a search for new and non-

saturated markets such as Asia, as a result of population

growth and increased prosperity, and the Middle East because

of their ban on alcohol. Poorer populations tend to drink

juice they squeeze themselves or simply to eat the whole fruit.

As incomes rise, they drink more concentrate, then more not-

from-concentrate – and ironically are likely to come full circle

by squeezing their own increasingly expensive but fresh

oranges. Or, rather, by having someone else squeeze the fruit

for them.

The juice-making process used to be perfectly straightfor-

ward. You cut and squeezed a fresh orange . . . so why has it

become so complicated and confusing?

Until the end of the nineteenth century, kitchen squeezers

were made in two parts with long handles, one bowl-shaped,

the other domed, joined by hinges. The squeezer we recog-

nize today, with ribs, juice-filtering rim and teeth for catching

the pips, first appeared in the American Sears Roebuck cata –

logue of . Although initially sold as a lemon squeezer,

as Margaret Visser commented, it was a brilliantly simple des –

ign based on the power of the human hand when twisted.

She added,

The squeezer began its conquest of the world’s kitchen

when an advertisement was placed in the Saturday Eve –

ning Post for  February  suggesting that we

should ‘Drink an Orange’ for breakfast, and offering

round glass orange-squeezers to readers for ten cents



In time, electric mixers came with orange-juicing attach-

ments – the trick was to hold the orange still while the mixer

did the twisting. Today there are all sorts of fancy devices and

machines, including Philippe Starck’s tarantula-like Alessi

squeezer, but I think an old-fashioned wooden reamer with a

ridged, convex blade remains one of the best and cheapest

juicers you can buy, as long as you don’t mind sticky fingers.

The acid and natural sugar levels of oranges are measured

in units called Brix, and heavy fruits with well-coloured juice

high in sugar, as is characteristic of the best Florida oranges,

are the most valuable. The taste and texture of oranges, how –

ever, naturally differs by type, season, location and even the

position on the tree. This innate variation may be part of the

attraction to an individual consumer, but it is also the last

thing an industrialized product needs.

As freshly squeezed juice lasts only a short time, the grow-

ers considered how to preserve the juice. The first step was

canning, but canned juice initially tasted terrible. Vacuum-

evaporated concentrate was first frozen in Florida in the s

but the flavour was lost when the water was removed. The in –

centive to produce a quality frozen juice was strongly motivated,

as has been noted, by the need to supply the troops with

provisions during the Second World War. It was a formid able

technical and practical challenge. The .. army could hardly

transport vast quantities of fruit to millions of soldiers; the

logistics were impossible. The first solution was powdered

orange juice – all the soldier had to do was add water. Un –

fortunately, it tasted so bad that no one could then drink the

stuff. Canned juice, on the other hand, was bulky and heavy

to transport long distances and the metal was needed for the

war effort.

All efforts were directed to the development of a better

frozen juice concentrate. Finally, scientists at the Florida Citrus


Visitors sampling

some Florida

orange juice at

the Highlands

Hotel, Ocala,

Florida, c. s.

Commission made a big leap forward in  when they dis-

covered that the taste of the concentrate could be improved

by the addition of a small amount of fresh juice before it was

frozen. It was easier to ship than large cans of juice and when

reconstituted, you could almost believe you were drinking the

former. It changed the history of orange juice forever.

From then on, the growth of the giant Tropicana and

Minute Maid brands were built on the post-war baby boom

and the rise of the suburban lifestyle, in which the act of

peeling an orange was considered time-wasting and tedious,

as well as new kitchen innovations: refrigerators, frozen din-

ners and those iconic little tins of .

The process is at once fundamentally simple and highly

complex. The fruit is washed and sorted, and the peel pricked


Woman pouring Orange Nip frozen orange juice for her children in

Sarasota, Florida, . Many Americans grew up on reconstituted juice

made by diluting the thawed concentrate with water. In the  in the

s, it was sold by Findus; there was even a pop song called ‘Frozen

Orange Juice’ that offered a vision of continental sophistication.

to extract oil. The juicing machines strip off the pith and peel

and extract the juice, which goes to a ‘finishing’ screen where

the pulp and seeds are removed. The waste is variously used

for livestock feed, pectin or brewing. The scale of opera –

tions today is immense; orange juice flows like a mighty river.

The scientist Pierre Laszlo makes an apt comparison with an

oil refinery.


The tangy, juicy sweetness of oranges has made them a mainstay on our breakfast tables, as snacks, and even as healthy desserts. Indeed, oranges and orange juices are so ubiquitous nowadays that we take them for granted—but their journey to our supermarket shelves is a long and tantalizing story, as Clarissa Hyman reveals in Oranges. Following the orange from its origins in the Mediterranean world to the grocery produce section, Hyman illuminates the wide-ranging cultural resonance and culinary presence of the popular fruit.

Charting the arrival of bitter and sweet oranges in the Mediterranean, where they were seen as a gift from the gods, Hyman chronicles their dramatic voyage to the Americas and the impact they had on agriculture, garden design, and architecture along the way. She surveys the many varieties of oranges that now exist and analyzes their status as symbols of great wealth in art, an inspiration for poets and painters, and a source of natural health. Dealing with the practical complexities of orange cultivation, she details the challenges facing modern producers and consumers across the globe. Packed with delicious recipes and luscious photos, Oranges is a refreshing look at the king of citrus.


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