Navel Gazing

Reader Diana asks if the original rosace a l’orange recipe called for navel oranges and if so, if there’s a substitute. The answer is that it definitely didn’t. I’m not sure what variety of orange Lenôtre used in the original, since navel oranges are mostly an American thing, I’m almost certain he used some other variety.

Navel orange trees are a variety first discovered in Brazil in the 1870’s, descendants of sweet orange trees first brought by Portuguese explorers. The varietal generated a lot of excitement in those days because its fruit was hardy, sweet and seedless. The little “mini” orange tucked into the blossom end of the fruit was also an interesting novelty.

About a dozen navel orange trees were imported to America and planted in different orchards in the Southern US. Only two of them survived, the ones planted in Riverside, California by town founder Eliza Tibbets. Over the years cuttings taken from them (the fruits are seedless after all) were used to create an entire navel orange industry in the Southwestern United States. One of the two “parent trees” died in the 1920’s, but the other survives to this day at the center of an unremarkable intersection near a strip mall at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington avenues.

6 thoughts on “Navel Gazing”

  1. Seriously? I grew up right near Riverside and never knew. Though when I was a kid there were a lot more orange trees around than there are now. Somehow I think SoCal would be more beautiful if they were still there. Or at least smell better.

    1. Yes, I hear that most of the trees are gone now, but once upon a time Riverside, CA was one of the most affluent towns in America. The average worker there made something like 500% the national average…all because of oranges!

      Thanks Derek!

  2. I frequently point out the site of the Riverside Navel Orange tree when I’m in Riverside. It usually results in looks of annoyed bewilderment from my companions. I’m certain that most people drive by it without ever even noticing a single fenced in orange tree with a Landmark Plaque in front of it. I know I did for years.

  3. I’ve been to Riverside any number of times when my daughter was in school there and had no idea.

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