Oranges, Grapefruits, Lemons, & Exploration


Anyone who has ever attended a book chat with me or read my blog knows I’m a giant nerd. I’ve always been a giant nerd. I was terribly bored in junior high and high school, so my graduating GPA doesn’t show that I’m a nerd, but that’s okay. In 10th grade, a counsellor figured it out and I was put in Honors and AP classes. I did very well in these classes.

I took a class in genetics (which was awesome) and in 11th grade, I had to retake world history and was placed in AP world history with Miss Jones. I also had Miss Jones for anthropology/archaeology. Of my high school teachers, Miss Jones was one of my absolute favorites.

In AP World History we covered topics a little faster and Miss Jones was prone to give us extra information. Information that in the grand scheme of things, we’d probably never use, but which was interesting. One of my Facebook friends posted a meme the other day about oranges: are they called oranges because they are orange or was the color named after them. And that extra information Miss Jones used to give us, suddenly had a use.

The sweet orange is a hybrid fruit; crossing the bitter orange with the pomelo creates sweet oranges. The majority of us eat sweet oranges – valencias, Cuties, Halos, etc. And the fruit was named after the color. The first orange entered Europe in the late 1500s. Citrus fruits were so incredibly expensive that they were often used as decorations by the nobility. Pineapples, grapefruits, oranges, kiwi, starfruits, all of these were “new world” fruits, they came to Europe only after the age of Exploration in the 1400s and 1500s. A British explorer brought the first orange tree back to England in the late 1500s and gave it to Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth would pass out oranges as a sign of favor. The oranges she handed out were inedible, because they were bitter oranges.

What explorers hadn’t realized was that the sweet oranges they were eating while in the New World, weren’t the same oranges they were taking back to Europe. Simultaneously, but separately native tribes in the Americas had been cross breeding oranges and pomeloes. These sweet orange trees were kept under lock and key. The first sweet orange tree would arrive in Europe in the 1700s.

Pineapples and oranges were the most expensive of the new world fruits. Pineapples at certain times were worth their weight in gold. Europeans never really developed a taste for kiwi and it was the least valuable of the lot. Even the poor and working classes in England could afford kiwi in the late 1700s and 1800s and it gained popularity among those classes. Until just before WWI, most working people in England had never tasted an orange or a pineapple. It’s something those of us born after 1918, take for granted. We don’t think about fruit as being a high priced commodity, because it is virtually everywhere. We have access to hundreds of different kinds of fruits.

Citrus fruits like oranges and pineapples literally changed the world.

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