Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oranges, Oranges, Oranges...

As the rind is broken, the smell of orange hits your nostrils. Your thumbnail accidentally punctures the fruit sending fruit juice squirting and the cold, fresh juice landing on your cheek.  You peel away more of rind; more fresh, citrus smell fills the air. All the the peel is removed. It is time to break into the fruit. Holding the newly peeled orange in both hands you press both thumbs in between two slices. The further you press your thumbs into the fruit the more cold juice hits your face. Now, two slices are separated, and it is easy to separate two slices on the opposite side of the orange. Only after you are satisfied the orange has been pulled apart into individual pieces but before you take a bite, you raise a slice to your nose and inhale. It is time to bite into the sweet, cool slice of the orange. Your mouth is filled with the sting of the citrus and sweetness of the natural sugars. ..... Now savor that flavor ....and savor that next slice ....and the slice after that.... When you reach the next slice, remember this might just be the last fresh orange you have until next Christmas......

....but we are far removed from the above scene. We seldom experience an orange in this way except if you maybe have the wonderful opportunity to enjoy an orange freshly picked from the tree. In modern America, it is such a simple thing.  An orange.

If we have a taste for an orange we simply go to the store and buy a bag.  Many of us start the day with a glass of orange juice. We find an orange in the toe of our Christmas stocking. It is very nice; it holds the shape of the toe, but really...we want the candy that is inside our stockings.  We, as contemporary Americans, even forget that oranges do have a season. Currently, it is mid-late December through the winter months. This is when we find the very best oranges...especially clementines. The tiny little oranges purchased often in 5 lb. boxes or bags.  The Victorians, however, never forget that oranges have a season. It is a short season. Oranges are a Christmas treasure.

If you are poor, your only Christmas present may be an orange. If you are middle, middle class, you may have many oranges. If you are wealthy, you may have many more oranges. BUT, there is a great equalizer here. Whether you have one orange or many oranges, once the season has past you may not have ANY more oranges until next Christmas and if you inhabit the northern half of the United States you will probably not have any more fresh fruit until May or June when the berries begin to show.

The scarcity of fresh fruit in the north during the winter months does not truly begin to change until the late 1890s, and that change is mainly found in the big cities (1). Oranges were arriving from places like Spain. By the 1870s-1880s, the middle, middle class American family often had enough oranges to have use them in a variety of ways. The juice of an orange could be mixed with pulverized sugar to make an orange icing for a cake. The rinds could be candied or ground into cakes or cookies. Whole oranges could be decorated with whole cloves just by pushing the cloves into the rind. These oranges could be stacked like a pyramid and their scent released into the room. In the right setting, these clove-oranges would dry and retain their scent for a while. If many oranges were to be had, the juice could be cooked down with sugar until it was a syrup concentrate and then stored in a bottle for future use.  Orange marmalade is also a good use for many oranges.  Mulled cider and wine always tastes better when oranges are added. These are just some of the ideas for oranges, but never forget that fresh orange in the toe of the Christmas stocking.

...and regardless of variety, all 19th century oranges have seeds. Navel oranges are a product of the 20th century.  Now, quick, go find an orange and enjoy it in a way that you may never have imagined.

Pyramid of Oranges &
Apples as Decoration

Layer Cake with Orange Icing

(1) Glenn Porter, and Harold C. Livesay, Merchants and Manufacturers; Studies in the Changing Structure of Nineteenth Century Marketing, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), 10.

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