Years ago my husband gave me an orange tree for our anniversary. It wasn’t cheap. He chose a native species and an option for an employee of the historic nursery to plant it for us. The tree was the culmination of a dream I had from the time I was a girl.
In my state, oranges didn’t grow like they do in Florida. I must have been about six years old when my mom bought us a set of books. One book in the set was about each state in our country. I loved the entry on Florida. One photo showed an orange tree full of one of my favorite fruits. I’d be in college before I visited the Sunshine State, and I remember being in awe of the beautiful beaches and those orange trees. Many people had trees in their yards, and the time of year I was there, the blossoms were in full array. I loved the scent. I had no idea one day I’d be living in Florida, but at that young age, I decided one day I’d plant an orange tree.
Once we had our orange tree planted, I studied up. I fertilized and watered. I kept that tree in tip top shape. I talked to it, encouraging it to yield. By late spring it was full of sweet smelling blossoms. I envisioned a bumper crop.
It was not to be. An unusually fierce summer storm wiped out the blossoms.
Each year it was the same. We’d have a tree full of blossoms but very little fruit. By the time the tree was about five or six years old, we’d get maybe half a dozen oranges. I gave up. I quit fertilizing and watering it. I figured if it wanted to live, it would. I couldn’t bring myself to dig it up. It was such a sweet gift from the man I adore. So it sat there and I just ignored it.
As summer waned this year, we began to spruce up the side yard where we’d planted the tree. I went out to pull up the ferns that grow here naturally—they’ll take over the yard if we don’t cull them. Lo and behold as I approached the tree I could see it was full of young fruit. Truly full. I’m a realist. All that fruit, I told myself, probably wouldn’t make it to adulthood. I didn’t permit myself to hope.
As fall set in, the fruit remained. Storms didn’t scalp the tree this go ‘round. As nights started to cool, I permitted myself to have a little hope. Maybe this year we’d get some good oranges.
Life got busy and I didn’t pay the tree much attention until one afternoon as we pulled into the driveway, my husband told me we probably ought to pick those oranges. I didn’t want to pick them too soon so I headed to the Web to see when we should pick them. He took a few off the tree—we learned to twist them, not pull. I used my garden snips. We let a few ripen inside and decided now was the time to reap the harvest.
We got about 20 pounds of oranges off that tree this year. It was a simple thing, but I can’t tell you the joy I felt as I picked those oranges.
I read up on the type we planted. It’s a Page Orange, and experts at the University of Florida described it:
“…a hybrid of Minneola tangelo and Clementine mandarin. Since Minneola is a grapefruit-tangerine hybrid, Page is actually 3/4 tangerine and 1/4 grapefruit. The cultivar was released in 1963 and came from a cross made in 1942 by Gardner and Bellows of the United States Department of Agriculture facility in Orlando.”
Our oranges had very few seeds. Those that did had seeds that were fairly large and easy to pick out.
The juice from these oranges is incredible. It is the best I’ve ever had.
Yesterday I made orange muffins with golden raisins and walnuts. I took a basic orange muffin recipe and switched it up a bit, adding ¼ cup more juice and leaving the pulp in. You wouldn’t believe how good those muffins are.
A 20-pound crop of oranges is fairly insignificant to many, but to me, that bumper crop of oranges was a bright spot in a lackluster season. I’m hoping for the same next year, and I’m getting creative on what to do with the rest of the oranges we picked this year. My husband has given me many nice gifts over the years, but that orange tree is the best one ever.
(Kay B. Day/November 16, 2020)