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Release date: 12/28/2004.
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"Champagne and orange juice is a great drink. The orange improves the champagne. The champagne definitely improves the orange."
--Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1981)

The end of autumn
our future ripe with promise--
such green tangerines!

--Matsua Basho (1644-1694), from Narrow road to the Interior

"[The Count is] neither sad, nor sick, nor merry, nor well, but...civil as an orange"
--Beatrice, describing the sour count in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, II, 1

by Pablo Neruda
"From blossoms
by the moonlight,
from an
aroma of exasperated
steeped in fragrance,
drifted from the lemon tree,
and from its plantarium
lemons descended to the earth.

Tender yield!
The coasts,
the markets glowed
with light, with
unrefined gold;
we opened
two halves
of a miracle,
congealed acid
from the hemispheres
of a star,
the most intense liqueur
of nature,
unique, vivid,
born of the cool, fresh
of its fragrant house,
its acid, secret symmetry.

sliced a small
in the lemon,
the concealed apse, opened,
revealed acid stained glass,
oozed topaz,
cool architecture.

So, when you hold
the hemisphere
of a cut lemon
above your plate,
you spill
a universe of gold,
yellow goblet
of miracles,
a fragrant nipple
of the earth's breast,
a ray of light that was made fruit,
the minute fire of a planet."
--transl. M.S. Peden from "Oda al Limón"

by Francis Ponge
"As in the sponge there is in the orange an aspiration to regain face after undergoing the ordeal of expression. But where the sponge always succeeds, the orange never: for its cells have burst, its tissues have torn apart. Whereas the peel alone flabbily regains its shape thanks to its elasticity, an amber liquid has spread, accompanied certainly by sweet coolness and scent--but often too by the bitter awarenss of a premature expulsion of pips.

"Must there be a preference between these two ways of failing to withstand oppression?--The sponge is merely muscle and is filled with wind, with clearn water or dirty water as the case may be: this gymnastic manoeuvre is tawdry. The orange has better taste, but it is too passive,--and that scented sacrifice...truly it plays too much into the oppressor's hands.

But it is not to have said enough of the orange to have recalled its particular way of scenting the air and of delighting its torturer. The glorious colouring of the resulting liquid must be stressed, which, more than lemon juice, compels the larynx to open wide for the articulation of the word as for the ingestion of the liquid, with no apprehensive pout at the front of the mouth where it does not ruffle the papillae.

"And one remains wordless what's more to confess the admiration merited by the outer wrapper of the tender, fragile and pink oval ball in this dense moist blotting-pad whose epidermis, extremely thin but highly pigmented, acerbically savoury, is just wrinkled enough to catch the light with dignity on the perfect form of the fruit.

"But at the end of a study that is all too short, carried out as roundly as possible,--we must come to the pip. This seed, in the form of a tiny lemon, presents on the outside the colour of the lemon tree's white wood, on the inside a green as of peas or a tender shoot. Within it are united, after the sensational explosion of the Chinese lantern of flavours, colours and scents that is the ball of fruit itself,--the relative hardness and the greenness (by no means entirely insipid) of the wood, of the branch, of the leaf: small, when all's said and done, though certainly the reason for being of the fruit."
--translated by William Rees

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The Citruses

(Lemons, Limes, Oranges,
Tangerines, Grapefruit & Pomelos)

"Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement's" -- Anon

It's generally believed that the ancestors of lemons, limes, and oranges took root some 8000 years ago in India or in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now Iraq. The miracle of their juiciness inside thick skin gave rise to many legends and stories--and also to some effective crossbreeding to improve flavor and juice.

The original--a citron--is supposed to have developed some 8000 years ago in the Near East. Ancient Mesopotamians raised them for their beauty and aroma--they were large, some 4-8 inches across, and flowered throughout the year. Egyptians loved them for their aid in embalming. Jews brought them to Israel from their captivity in Babylon, some 2500 years ago. Romans used them as mothballs--til Persian slaves taught them better. At various places and times, citrus fruits have been identified as aphrodisiacs, as cures for fever and colic, and as protection against poisons. Europeans in the Dark Ages, however, were sure that lemons were poisonous themselves--though crusaders brought them back from Palestine.

This original variety--the fragrant citron Citrus medica Linn--is one of the Four Species used in the synagogue service on the Feast of Tabernacles. In ancient times, it was a popular Jewish symbol on coins, graves, and synagogues--called "etrog," a word of Indian origin--and was used ritually, especially as a handle for the circumcision knife. It was so popular, it was proposed as a standard of measure. And when, following the Jewish rebellion against Rome in 66 AD, Jews were dispersed throughout the Roman empire, they took their citron with them, planting them across the Mediterrean in Spain, Italy, Sicily, Tunisia, Algeria, and Turkey. Its scarcity in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages caused much anguish for the many Jews who had migrated there.

Apparently these Jewish gardeners in classical times were also responsible for the cultivation of other citrus fruits--Romans commissioned them to develop the orange and lemon, which they did using the citron as grafting stock. What the Talmud calls the "sweet citron" was probably this early orange. But these citrus fruits disappeared from Europe after the fall of Rome--until they were reintroduced by Arabs in the 10th century.

Not until the great seafaring voyages of Columbus were citrus fruits discovered to prevent scurvy--and, as part of his ships' rations, Columbus took citrus seeds to the New World for the first time, where they spread throughout the Caribbean. Ponce de Leon then carried them to Florida in 1513--and required his sailors to plant 100 seeds each wherever they landed. Thus the great Florida citrus industry by the 19th century. Because of its hot, damp climate, Florida produced thin-skinned juicy fruits; California's drier climate, by contrast, produces thick-skinned, sweet "eating" oranges.

The pomelo was introduced to the West Indies in the 17th century by a Captain Shaddock--who also may have introduced the grapefruit. This latter, which some think mutated from the pomela, was given its name because it grows in bunches--and it was introduced to Florida around 1840 by Don Philippe, a Spanish nobleman. Even so, it's a stretch to credit the anonymous wag who said: "A grapefruit is a lemon that had a chance and took advantage of it.".

Certainly, the fragrance and allusiveness of citrus fruits have made them famous scene-setters for poets throughout time and space:

The orange tree
was planted in my garden
as a symbol of our love,
Love we have come to regret it, our love
was worth doing

--Otomo no Sakanoe no Iratsume (8th century), trans. Kenneth Rexroth and Ikuko Atsumi

"Here hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night"

--Andrew Marvell, Bermudas

From blossoms
by the moonlight,
from an
aroma of exasperated
steeped in fragrance,
drifted from the lemon tree,
and from its plantarium
lemons descended to the earth
--Pablo Neruda's "Ode to the Lemon" (see sidebar for complete poem)

Now water-lily plants are dead,
Their wan umbrellas all are lost.
A few chrysanthemums have stayed
On withered stems to brave the frost.
All through the year, I still will hold,
No finer sight is to be seen
Than when sweet oranges turn gold
While yet the mandarins are green.

--Su Shih, 11th century Chinese poet, in "Winter" (trans. J.A. Turner)

Knowst thou the land where the lemon trees bloom,
Where the gold orange glows in the deep thicket's gloom,
Where a wind ever soft from the blue heaven blows,
And the groves are of laurel and myrtle and rose?

--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Apprenticeship, II:11

La fermeture éclair a glissé sur tes reins
et tout l'orage heureux de ton corps amoureux
au beau milieu de l'ombre
a éclaté soudain
Et ta robe en tombant sur le parquet ciré n'a pas fait plus de bruit
qu'une écorce d'orange tombant sur un tapis
Mais sous nos pieds
ses petits boutons de nacre craquaient comme des pépins
joli fruit
la pointe de ton sein
a tracé une nouvelle ligne de chance
dans le creux de ma main
joli fruit

Soleil de nuit.
--Jacques Prevert's "Blood Orange," or "Sanguine," roughly translated as "The zipper slid down your back/and the whole beautiful storm of your loving body/contained in darkness/suddenly burst out./ And your dress, in falling to the polished floor,/made no more sound/than an orange peel falling on a carpet./ But under our feet/its little pearl buttons crunched like pips./ Blood orange/pretty fruit/the tip of your breast/drew a new line of fortune/in the palm of my hand./Blood orange/pretty fruit./ The sun of the night."