Sunday, February 06, 2005

On Oranges & Marmalade

Oranges originated in China and they only spread beyond China in the first centuries A.D.: to neighboring parts of the Far East, to South Asia, to the Middle East, and finally to the classical world. The name aurantium, derived from the Persian naranj and the Sanskrit narunga—and the root of the Italian arancia, the Spanish naranja, and the French and English ‘orange’—was a Late Latin term coined when the Romans became interested in the fruit, sometime around the 1st century A.D. With the exception of Spain, where the Moorish presence helped ensure its continued cultivation, the Fall of the Roman Empire brought an end to the cultivation of the orange on the European continent until around the 11th century. When they began to reappear, sour oranges were the first oranges to be cultivated again in Europe, with sweet oranges arriving a few hundred years later. It is reported that sour oranges were being grown in Sicily at the beginning of the 11th century. The sweet orange appeared in the Mediterranean region by the late 15th century. The Portuguese introduced a particularly sweet variety at the very end of the 15th century after Vasco de Gama returned from India, a variety that came to be known as a “China” orange. The sweet “China” oranges that became a delicacy in England in the late 16th century were actually from Portugal.

The word “marmalade” also comes from Portugal. It is derived from the Portuguese marmelada, which was the name given to a thick quince paste that was being sold in England by the 15th century. Oranges and lemons were being imported into England at the time, and a similarly thick preserve made their pulp became known as “marmalade.” Marmalades remained a solid dish, meant to be eaten with one’s fingers, until around the 18th century. It was only then that the modern spreadable version was developed and took root. For some reason marmalade making in the British home has traditionally been the domain of men, according to Alan Davidson. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that bitter oranges began to make their way back into European pantries as the Crusaders returned from their exploits in the Holy Land.

Oranges were relatively quick to make it to the New World. Columbus brought orange seeds to Haiti, along with lemon and lime seeds, on his second trip to the Caribbean. The first oranges were planted in Florida in the 16th century; California oranges only date back to 1739, when missionaries began to cultivate them in Baja California.


[sources: Fruit: A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook and The Penguin Companion to Food, both by Alan Davidson]

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