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The Garden Gate: Crusaders disappointed in forbidden fruit theory

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By Ellen Probert Williamson

Crusaders arriving in the Holy Land in the 12th century learned, to their amazement, that apples were not native to the area.

Apples were supposedly the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, so the Crusaders thought the translators of the Bible were mistaken, and some other fruit was intended.

Many researchers today believe it was the apricot, but the Crusaders of that century thought it was the big, yellow, citrus fruit they called the pomelo.

This tropical fruit would grow in England, but it flourished in the islands of the Caribbean.

A sea captain, Thomas Shadduck, exported the golden globes of pomelos from Barbados in about 1650, and they then became known as Shadducks.

By the mid-1770s, Shadducks were prolific in the West Indies. Because of the way they grew in clusters like grapes, they were soon called grapefruits.

British botanist James Macfadyen gave them the Latin name Citrus paradisi, as a lasting memorial to the Crusaders’ theory, in 1830.

The ever-popular grapefruit began its fascinating history in Asia, near China’s southern border.

It is mentioned among the tributes brought to Chinese emperors more than 4,000 years ago.

In about the 3rd century B.C., all the prized Asian fruits were brought by trading caravans to the Middle East.

There, they acquired new names in various Arabic and Semitic languages.

In the Moorish lands of North Africa, they especially flourished.

The Moors took the seedlings of lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges to Spain.

They were used as trade goods when ships from European countries went to Mediterranean ports.

In England, they acquired anglicized versions of the Arabic names.

The first grapefruits in Florida were grown from seeds from a Spanish nobleman named Don Philippe.

So-called “seedless” grapefruits were grown in Florida in the late 1800s, and the first pink seedless ones were grown there in 1913.

(The term “seedless” refers to a fruit with fewer than nine seeds.)

The first ruby-red grapefruits were discovered in 1929 in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

From a natural limb mutation on a pink grapefruit tree, the new ruby-red variety became very popular because of its color, sweet flavor and superior quality.

The Rio Grande area is still the finest growing place in the world for this variety. Rio Grande ruby-red grapefruits are featured in many supermarkets at this season of the year.

The medicinal value of grapefruits and other citrus fruits is great.

Not only do they have a high vitamin C content, they also provide natural compounds that lower cholesterol and fight cancer.

Experiments have shown that eating two grapefruits a day can lower cholesterol by up to 19 percent.

Late summer and the early beginnings of fall make for a busy time in the garden.

Soon, leaf raking will become a recurring task, but the scent of burning leaves, once a fall trademark, is now forbidden to city dwellers. It is still a country experience.

Cooler nights and warm days are beginning to provide us with the beautiful colors of leaves in the trees.

As they begin to fall, the evergreens and hollies will come into their own — and that reminds us that the joyous holiday season is not far away.

Now is the time for drying herbs for teas and winter use. It’s also the time for making jelly and jam from end-of-summer fruits.

Pomanders and potpourris can be made now, and they make wonderful holiday gifts.

Country people say it’s time to pick the last of the green tomatoes when the weather gets cold enough to silence the crickets and tree frogs.

They wrap the tomatoes in paper to store and ripen for later use.

Pumpkins and squashes are beginning to be featured in roadside stands.

Apples — in every shade of green, gold and red — seem to be in endless variety.

Harvest festivals are increasing all across the country.

Chrysanthemums, cosmos, marigolds and zinnias abound in our gardens now, but we can also look forward to the blossoming of the perennials that we plant now to bloom and be equally profuse in spring flowering.

We might think about a trip to the nearest cider mill to celebrate the autumn season.

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Ellen Probert Williamson lives in Kingston. Her column appears regularly in the Roane County News.