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The Garden Gate: Orange you glad for these fruits?

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By Ellen Probert Williamson
In Tennessee, we think of orange as a color, especially those of us who are avid sports fans, as it is representative of our team loyalties.

The word orange originally referred to the scent of the fruit, rather than its color hue.

The word orange is derived from Sanskrit, the classical language of India.

The Sanskrit “naranga” is kin to another one, “naru” in another Indian language, Tamil, where naru means fragrant.

Oranges are thought to have originated somewhere in southeastern Asia, India and China.

The Arabs first introduced oranges into Europe with the sour orange brought across North Africa and into Spain in the 11th century. Sweet oranges were first cultivated in southeastern Asia in about 1500 B.C.

Early on, the orange was introduced to India and from there was exported by early Genoese traders or Portuguese explorers in the early 15th century.

The Spaniards brought oranges to Florida in 1565 and to California in 1769. This popular citrus fruit grows on an evergreen tree with narrow, shiny leaves and fragrant white flowers, which for a long time have been associated with weddings.

Orange blossoms were worn by brides among the Saracens, who thought of them as tokens of a happy and prosperous union.

In ancient Crete, couples were sprinkled with orange flower water on their wedding day, and Sarainians fastened orange flowers and oranges to the horns of oxen used to pull the cart that carried the newly married pair.

Oranges first arrived in England by means of the Portuguese shortly before they began to be cultivated in southern Europe.

When Henry IV was crowned in 1399, oranges were served at his coronation banquet and were much admired as a new and exotic treat.

On his second voyage to the “new world,” Columbus planted orange trees in the West Indies. From there, they were brought to Florida, where they soon grew wild in great profusion. The Seminole Indians were quick to take advantage of these sweet, juicy fruits.

John Bartram, an 18th-century naturalist, tells of the Indian custom of slicing off the top, filling the middle with wild honey and then eating the fruit.

Bartram’s son, William, journeying through Florida, reported that a favorite Indian dish was trout cooked in orange juice and served with wild rice which, he reported, “afforded me a delicious supper.”

Benjamin Franklin had a special recipe for a drink called orange shrub, of which he was very fond and cautioned everyone who followed his special recipe for it to be careful not to waste a single drop.

Thomas Jefferson, the third American president and a great horticultural experimenter, tried to grow orange trees imported from Italy in his garden at Monticello.

The United States is today the largest orange grower in the world. It produces more than half of the world’s supply, with Florida and California as the biggest suppliers.

In classic mythology Juno gave Jupiter “golden apples” on the day of their marriage.

Two of the most famous English poets, Spenser and Milton, claimed that these golden apples were in fact, oranges.

This popular citrus fruit grows easily wherever the climate is warm and dry. They cannot tolerate frost. They can be grown from seed or can be budded or grafted.

Texas, Louisiana, Arizona and Mississippi are also big orange producers. There are many varieties, of orange but the most common are the sweet, China or Seville orange.

The sweet orange is the one from which a number of other varieties have been developed, including the Valencia, blood oranges and the seedless navel oranges.

Sour orange trees are usually grown for ornamental purposes, but in Spain they are grown commercially to use in making marmalades, candied orange peel, or for food flavorings, the liquor Curacao, and for use in medicines and cosmetics.

The bergamot orange, a hybrid of sour oranges, is grown in Italy and along the Mediterranean coast, where the peel is used in the production of oil of bergamot, a perfume ingredient.

Orange growers are very careful of their orchards. The fruit is always picked by gloved workers to prevent any bruising and then carefully washed in soapy water with borax and rinsed.

Occasionally they will be lightly colored to enhance the golden color we always associate with oranges, but if so this coloring is only on the skin and is quite harmless.

Oranges are eaten raw, used for juice or can be used in cooking and for making candied fruit.

The yellow part of the rind is often grated or shredded to add to some dishes to add a delicious flavor.

But most of the entire orange crop is consumed in the form of orange juice at breakfast time.

Orange juice, distinct from orangeade, is an American custom, although oranges have been eaten and loved all over the world for many centuries. The American custom of orange juice at breakfast is still thought of as rather dashing and “American.”

Orange peel is often candied or crystallized for baking and confectionary. The essential oil pressed from orange skins is used all over the world in medicines, cosmetics and food flavorings.

In Brazil, oranges are peeled, sliced and served on sliced pineapples and eaten with a knife and fork.

In some countries orange skins are peeled in one long strip. The peeling is hung to dry on the backyard fence. It will catch fire very easily when it is dried and is used for kindling for the fireplace or wood-burning stove.

Containers of orange juice are sold in supermarkets and food stores everywhere.

There are other orange-flavored products, including soft drinks, gelatin desserts, flower water, oil, flavoring extracts and marmalade.

Oranges are rich in vitamin C and some vitamin A and are low in calories. It would be difficult to imagine the world without them!

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