The orange was introduced into Europe from China, the Malta, Portugal or common Orange (citrus sinensis) is now cultivated extensively. A grove of glossy-leaved, healthy citrus fruit trees, with its wealth of golden fruit, is a joy to behold. The blossoms appear in February and again in June, filling the air with exquisite perfume. In February it is not an uncommon sight to see the golden oranges and the waxy white blossoms on the trees at the same time.
The Valencia ripens from April to November, is lighter in color, more oblong and not entirely seedless. The fruit of this tree does not ripen until a year or more after it blossoms. In the spring, both ripe fruit and blossoms can be seen on the tree at the same time.
When the trees are planted, they are generally pruned back to about 18 to 20 inches to assure low branching. Low-branched trees are the easiest to handle when the fruits are gathered. After the trees have become established, they are thinned out so as to leave only four or five branches for framework. The sun must always be allowed to penetrate to the center of the tree.
The bane of the grove is the frost that creeps in on a clear night. If the night is cloudy, the trees are not so apt to be injured if the temperature goes down; but on a clear night, if the mercury drops, then the smudge pots must be lighted. Generally these are just low fires built on the ground throughout the grove, which must be kept smoldering all through the night. It is the smoke that protects the trees. Sometimes the fires are built in metal containers. The fuel may be bamboo, roots, dead branches, pine knots or palmetto stalks.
The fruit is picked by professionals, from November to April. It is cut from the tree with pruning shears, loaded into trucks, and taken to the packing house. There it is placed upon racks. The fruit rolls from the rack into a hot water bath in which there may be a solution of borax, and is thoroughly scrubbed with a rotary brush, then rolled into the drying machine, where a vapor wax envelops each piece of fruit. It is polished with an 18-foot horsehair polisher, and passed over a wide belt where graders examine it and separate it into classes according to grade requirements. The oranges that pass muster go into the sizer, from which the smallest ones drop first, and the largest, last. The fruit is usually wrapped individually before being packed in boxes for shipment. Oranges are graded as U.S. Fancy, the top grade, U.S. No. 1 and then unclassified.
Oranges of the best quality are firm and heavy, have a fine-textured skin for their variety, and are well-colored. Such fruits (even with a few surface blemishes, such as scares, scratches and slight discolorations) are much to be preferred to oranges that have badly creased skin or are puffy or spongy and light in weight.
From The Encyclopedia Of Cookery, Wm. H. Wise & Co., Inc., 1948