The Bitter and the Sweet

It wasn’t long after Columbus planted the first few orange groves on Hispaniola that explorers in general started to notice the virtues of freelance citriculture. A few orange seeds scattered here or there at some tropical port of call might make handy food stocks or even cash crops in later years, not to mention scurvy preventatives.

Columbus had Hispaniola, modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic, covered. Literally. Hernando de Soto brought them to Florida. Later James Cook took them to Australia. George Vancouver, Cook’s shipmate and eventual explorer of the Pacific Northwest, planted the first few orange trees in Hawaii. However as I mentioned below, the earliest explorers planted only bitter oranges, which were the only variety they knew. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1500’s or so that sweeter Chinese oranges would enter Europe and by extension its colonies.

It’s not known how the first sweet oranges arrived in Europe. There’s evidence to suggest that Genoese traders acquired them by the mid-1400’s or even earlier. Whether these were truly “sweet” oranges or some sort of less-bitter variety of the oranges that Europeans already knew is a subject of some debate. What is known for sure is that a Portuguese naval officer and explorer by the name of João de Castro brought a truly sweet orange home to Lisbon in the 1540’s that set the entire fruit-eating world on fire.

The next century would see the rise of a global citrus-growing industry created to meet the demand of orange-mad Europeans and their colonists. An even larger botanical importation industry grew right alongside it as the Dutch and later English East India Companies raced back and forth from the Orient in search of new exotic plants with big-time commercial appeal.

7 thoughts on “The Bitter and the Sweet”

  1. Reminds me to some extent of your Johnny Appleseed post a few months back (minus all the ‘crazy guy’ considerations)…

    1. I was thinking something similar when I was writing it: another seed diaspora story, but without a lunatic!

      Thanks, Roger!

      – Joe

  2. Dear Joe stumbled upon your site a couple weeks ago and have been enjoying it a lot. I like your humor and the way you make sound elaborate recipes so easy – i might even try my hand on laminated doughs now, something I’ve always shied away from…If you ever need help with German, especially Northern German, pastries or ingredients I’d be happy to help. Sanni from Schleswig-Holstein

    1. Hello Sanni!

      Thanks so much. And in fact I’m always wanting to do more recipes from Germany but don’t know where to begin! Any recommendations?

      Thanks for writing in.


      – Joe

  3. Dear Joe, thinking of the season “Heisse Wecken” (flat, sometimes cream filled, raisin buns), Berliner ( like big, jam filled donut holes) and various Lebkuchen (German Gingerbread) come to mind. Butterkuchen ( I think you call that one Moravian Sugar Cake) would be “the” classic German Coffecake , I haven’t seen a nearly authentic recipe in the English speaking reciipe community yet, most use brown sugar which is a no-no in this cake. I happen to have a killer recipe though…If you’d like a recipe or another Stollen recipe for that matter just drop me a note. Hope you had a happy snowy day with your family. Sanni

    1. Hey Sanni!

      I have a stolen on the site under “fruitcake” in the Pastry menu. That butterkuchen sounds great if you have a minute one of these days. I’d love a good recipe!

      Many thanks!

      – Joe

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