Most Florida orange trees have lemon-tree roots, while many California lemon trees have orange-tree roots. Wait a minute! How is that possible? Well, citrus trees are made up of two sections: the leaves and branches (scion) and the roots and trunk (rootstock). An orange tree's branches can be grafted into a lemon tree's roots, thus producing oranges instead of lemons. In fact, a single citrus tree, with a botanist's help, can produce oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, kumquats, and tangerines all at the same time. That's a lot of grafting!
Lemons are harvested from the trees when they reach a certain size, and they are still green. They are then stored for up to several months to turn yellow and ripen before they ever reach the supermarket. So-the lemon you buy today was probably picked five to seven months ago.
Cook's Note: When buying lemons, choose ones that are heavy for their size that means they are the juiciest. Don't choose the rock-hard ones, though. To get all the juice out of the lemon, microwave it for 15 seconds to soften it before you squeeze it.
Mandarin oranges are often referred to as "slip-skin" or "zipper skin" oranges because their rind is so loose it practically peels itself. They were grown extensively by the Chinese and Japanese in the 16th century.
Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Americas, planted the first orange tree in the Americas on the isle of Haiti, November 22, 1493. The oranges soon spread over all of the West Indies and finally reached Florida in the hands of Miguel Diaz. From Florida, a Spanish missionary trekked to California and planted the ancestor of the California oranges in 1707. By the time of the gold rush, wise pioneers found "gold" in tending orange trees and shipping and selling the prized fruit to alcoholic, malnourished miners who had scurvy.
After being handpicked from orange trees by highly trained workers, oranges receive a makeover. They are washed in a tub of warm, soapy water, and then take a bath in a disinfectant. After bathing, the oranges are dried for several hours in a large aerated room to firm up their skins. The oranges are then polished with soft brushes and lightly waxed until they are attractive and shiny. The wax helps the oranges keep their vitamins, which would evaporate through the unwaxed skin during shipping. Before you eat an orange, wash it in warm water and wipe it dry, if you are going to eat the peel.
Navel oranges are nicknamed "eating oranges," while Valencia oranges carry the "juicing oranges" name. Both oranges make great snacks the Valencia contains more juice, however.
In the U.S., over 600 different products are made from oranges, including cosmetics and antifreeze.
Cook's Note: As with other citrus fruits, choose oranges that are heavy for their size. Don't be too concerned about the appearance of the outer peel of an orange. It hasn't much to do with the ripeness or flavor of the orange. Brown spots or streaks on the peel are actually "wind scars" caused by the gentle breeze that brushed the fruit against the tree branches when it was growing. And, green oranges are ripe if they come from Florida, so don't refuse an orange just because it isn't completely orange.