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The Garden Gate: Don’t take the common grapefruit for granted

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Crusaders arriving in the Holy Land during the 12th century were amazed and excited to learn that apples, supposedly the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, were not native to this land.

Many researchers today believe the forbidden fruit was the apricot. But the Crusaders of the 12th century thought it was the big, yellow citrus fruit they called the pomolo.

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

In about 1050, Capt. Thomas Shadduck exported the yellow globes from Barbados, and they became known as Shadducks in the sea captain’s honor.

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

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

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

So-called seedless grapefruit 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 that has fewer than nine seeds.

In 1929, the first ruby red grapefruits were discovered in the Rio Grande valley of Texas. They were a natural limb mutation on a pink grapefruit tree.

This new variety quickly became popular for its sweet flavor, color and superior quality.

The Rio Grande area is still the finest growing area for this variety in the world.

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

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

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

This, in turn, can reportedly cut the risk of heart disease by about 40 percent.

The ever-popular grapefruit has a fascinating history.

It began in Asia Minor near China’s southern border and is mentioned as among the tributes taken to Chinese emperors more than 4,000 years ago.

All the prized Asian fruits were taken by trading caravans to the Middle East in about the 3rd century B.C. There, they all acquired new names in various Arabic and Semitic languages.

In the Moorish lands of North Africa, they flourished. The Moors took the seedlings of citrus fruits to Spain, where they were used as trade goods when ships from European countries arrived at Mediterranean ports. In England, they acquired anglicized versions of the Arabic names.

All citrus fruits have an exotic past. They are not the ho-hum, everyday items we now take for granted in the supermarket.

Oranges are indigenous to India and China. They finally reached Europe and, in due time, America by way of Persia. In 1178, oranges were listed in herbals and medical books as remedies for many ailments. Some listings indicate that ancient doctors were on the right track, even if they knew nothing at the time about vitamins.

Lemons originated in western China. Recipes for lemonade appear in many writings long before the 17th century.

It wasn’t that long ago that citrus fruits were unheard of in this part of the country. What Midwestern or Southern family had grapefruits, even as recently as the beginning of the last century?

That was an era when an orange was a special Christmas treat — and a very expensive one.

We take for granted that these and other fruits and vegetables with romantic and ancient histories are now so readily available. How pampered we are!

It is always nice if you can be friends with your trees and other plants in your garden. If they like you, they will flourish. If not, all your best efforts will bring only disaster.

We are constantly told to be kind to our animal friends. Perhaps it is only sensible that we should be kind to our plant friends as well. They do deserve it!

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