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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seville Oranges

We visited Spain in the ‘70’s, rented a car and explored that fascinating country. I especially remember Seville in the south not just because it is a beautiful Moorish city but its avenues and the central square were full of orange trees. It was October, the oranges were ripe and so plentiful we picked one, peeled it with difficulty, bit into the juicy flesh with gusto only to recoil in disgust because they were so bitter and sour they were frankly inedible. We wondered why they would ever have been planted there and it turned out to be an interesting story.

Oranges had first been imported from China as early as 100 BC because sailors used to become very ill with the dreaded scurvy when they ran out of fresh fruits and vegetables at sea. Some even died because of the lack of Vitamin C the fresh produce provided in their diet.

The Captains of very early European trading ships solved this problem by planting citrus trees - oranges, lemons & limes that are full of Vitamin C- in many of the ports along their trading routes. Citrous trees are killed by frost so Seville is about as far north as they would grow in Europe. It took sweet oranges and other varieties much longer to migrate than the Seville oranges because they are not so hardy.

At one time the seafaring British who sailed the world helped solve the scurvy problem by importing Seville oranges and making a concoction of the orange peel and juice stewed up with lots of sugar. They gave it the name Marmalade and I always figured that name was derived from the French ‘mer malade’ [sea sickness] so I was a bit disappointed when I read it actually comes from the Portugese word ‘marmelo’ meaning quince jam.

The British sailors were given marmalade on their toast and to flavour deserts etc. and soon got a taste for the caramelized bitter flavour. Before marmalade, sauerkraut and portable soup that contain Vitamin C were the remedies used by famous long distance sailors like Captain Cook - I might add, much to the distaste of their crew. During the 19th Century to prevent scurvy sailors were given limes that were easy for them to obtain from their Caribbean island colonies - hence the name 'Limeys', first for British sailors and now for the British themselves.

Many animals like cats, dogs and even the lowly rat can produce Vitamin C in their own bodies and you probably can expect a post from me one week explaining why and extolling the many virtues of vitamin C. Rie



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