According to the ancient Greek legend, the unusually strong son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene, had to carry out 12 “heroic labors” by order of Eurystheus, to whom he was sent in service by the jealous Hera. His last labor was to bring three golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides, which was at the westernmost end of the world, at the border with the Atlantic. Instead of climbing over the Atlas Mountains, Heracles, thanks to his superhuman strength, just passed through it, thus connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. That is why the rocks at the European and African sides of the Gibraltar Strait bear his name – the Pillars of Hercules (Hercules is the Roman name of Heracles). But going back to the apples, according to later interpretations of the legend, it was decided that the “golden apple” given to Hera by Gaia on her wedding to Zeus, was actually an orange tree. Based on that, the Greek botanical name of citruses is “Hesperidoeidē”, and the word “πορτοκάλι”, which they use for the fruit, as we do in Bulgaria, originates from the country of Portugal on the Iberian Peninsula, close to which the tree was growing in antiquity.
Contrary to what most of us think, in English this fruit was not named for its color – orange. Instead, the term comes from a transliteration of the Sanskrit “naranga”, which comes from the Tamil “naru”, which means “fragrant”.
The orange originated in Southeast Asia, on the territory of Ancient China. At least 4 millennia BC, the orange was cultivated there before being taken to India. The orange tree does not grow in the wild but is a cultivated hybrid between pomelo and mandarin. In tropical weather its color is not even orange but green, even when it is ripe. The lack of enough sun in the moderate climates is the reason for its orange color. The bitter orange was introduced in Europe in the 9th century – during the reign of the Emirate of Sicily, along with other citrus fruits, and later by the Moors in Andalusia. But the sweet variety became known only at the end of the 15th century, when Italian and Portuguese traders began to import it from India to the Mediterranean region. The royals of that time liked it so much, that they began to grow it as a luxury commodity in private gardens – the so-called “orangeries”. It is clear where the word, which we still use today, comes from. The French King Louis XIV was a great admirer of oranges and built the largest, for its time, orangery in Versailles. The King also ordered for orange trees in massive silver flowerpots to be put in rooms around the palace.
On the American continent, the orange seeds arrived with Christopher Columbus and his expeditions to the Caribbean. Thus, with time, Brazil, the United States and Mexico overtook China and India and today are the largest producers of oranges in the world.
The tree is evergreen, reaches 10 meters height and lives over 100 years. It is considered a symbol of fertility because it gives flowers, leaves and fruits at the same time. The flowers of the orange are tender and white and smell wonderful. The fragrance of the orange flowers is the third favorite fragrance after the chocolate and the vanilla and is used massively in the production of perfumes. But you don’t have to waste your perfume, if you want to freshen up the air in your home – just put an orange peel somewhere and it will not only add a clean and tingling smell to the room, but it will also banish the moths from your closet. And the cats if you have any. Cats do not like the smell, but who can explain the behavior of these capricious animals. Besides as an air freshener, the orange is used for cleaning – the mechanics use the peel to remove grease and oil easily, and the housewives in Jamaica polish their floors not with a mop and disinfectants, but with… a sliced in half orange. You can add a few drops of freshly squeezed juice to your dishwashing soap that will make your dishes shine.
But before I start sounding like an ad for a dishwashing soap, let me go back to the more natural use of the orange – for eating, of course. In reality, only 15 percent are consumed, 85% of the overall production goes to make juice. And no wonder as orange juice is all-around favorite one. The “Valencia” variety – one of the more than 600 species of oranges in the world, is the most cultivated one for juices because of its exceptional sweetness and juiciness. I do not know if the one I bought today is a “Valencia”, but it looks good. I have decided to make a recipe of a friend of mine – an Italian guy, who got it from his mother – a French lady. Quite simple and incredibly delicious.
CHICKEN WITH ORANGE
– 600 gr chicken breasts
– 2 tbs. olive oil
– 4-5 garlic cloves
– flour for the breading
– salt to taste
– 1 coffee cup of white wine
– 1 orange
Cut the chicken into cubes, salt them, roll them in flour and fry them in heated up grease until golden. Squash the cloves with your palm and add them to the pan. Leave for 2-3 minutes, making sure to not burn them. Add the wine, lower the heat and put on the lid. Leave it to simmer until the wine has evaporated. Squeeze out the orange and add the juice to the chicken. Stir until thickened. Serve the dish warm, with a garnish of fresh salad.
I do not think I will ever get bored of this dish, as I lick my fingers every time.