A Very Citrus Christmas

 

Christmas time in England used to be the time when mandarins were common supplementary presents, and this is of course logical because this is the time when all those Green globes hanging from the trees in the orchards surrounding Valencia, are starting to turn orange.

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The Arabs arrived in Spain in 711 AD and brought with them a host of products from further east, such as gunpowder and citrus fruits (which should not be confused).

The very word mandarin hints at its oriental origin, whereas tangerine refers to Tangiers.

It was the invention of steam engines and steam propelled ships that brought about the growth of the export of oranges from Valencia, where at first they had had a purely decorative role. In fact many Valencian streets still have orange trees, although you would eat the fruit at your peril.

The sweet orange wasn’t in fact developed until the 16th century, although it took the British a long time to catch on, as they continued to put bitter marmalade on their toast.

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The first areas of Valencia to cultivate the sweet orange were Orihuela, Xàtiva and Alzira, and among the first recorded exports were 18,000 oranges and 68,000 lemons shipped from Sagunto in 1717.

A document from 1834 tells us about quantities of oranges exported to London and New York from the port of Denia, which established itself as an important raisin exporter at this time. This industry in fact explains the presence of a small British cemetery in Denia, although somewhat abandoned today.

In 1850 the first shipment of oranges left the port of Valencia for Liverpool, and Cullera was also important at this time as an exporter, mainly to France, bearing in mind that travelling to the rest of Europe by land at this time was a nightmare.

And so, in Valencia, Easter is the time when everything smells of orange blossom, and Christmas the time when the fields are full of citrus fruits, hanging there in the frequently warm winter sun while the consumers of these fruits from the east, sit in East London watching the cold rain, dreaming of palm trees.

 

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