Tag Archives: marmalade

Seville | Everything you always wanted to know about oranges….

Seville is, as we all know, famous for its orange trees and oranges, but if you’re not a jam-maker, botanist or citrus fruit farmer, it may come as a surprise to learn that this is the season when the oranges are harvested. There are probably lots of other things you don’t know about oranges, but luckily for you we are here to ask all those questions you could never be bothered to ask.

orange harvestoranges being harvested in the centre of Seville

Oranges are grown in lots of places, but where did they come from originally?
Oranges are thought to be native to south-east Asia, probably north-east India, southern China and Vietnam.

How were they introduced to Spain?
Oranges were introduced to the Eastern Roman Empire from India in about the 1st century, and gradually spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa. They were brought to Spain by the Moors in the 10th century. It is sometimes said that Hercules, also credited with being one of the founders of Seville, stole the first oranges from the Gardens of the Hesperides, where they were called Golden Apples.

orange blossomfragrant orange blossom (azahar)

Why are they called oranges?
Ultimately, this is a similar question to “why is water wet?” However, the Indian word for orange was “naranyan”, which means “inner fragrance”, and most European languages use similar names, such as Spanish “naranja”. In English, it was originally a norange (no, that’s not a typo).

Sweet oranges are obviously good to eat, but why choose to plant bitter oranges?
Precisely for that reason – people wouldn’t eat them and the trees would remain decorative throughout the season until the fruit were harvested. In fact, decoration and shade were the primary reasons for growing orange trees. In China they were also thought to bring their owners happiness and good fortune, and this tradition may have spread with the trees.

What are they used for?
In the Middle Ages the use of oranges was primarily medicinal. Later they were used for perfumes, wines and flavourings, particularly sweets, and since the 17th century (when sugar from Caribbean plantations became available in large quantities) the majority of bitter oranges have been exported to England to make Seville Orange Marmalade. Also exported was the Spanish word for jam – “mermelada”.

Poires au Chocolat Seville Orange Marmaladephoto: Poires au Chocolate – click here for a great marmalade recipe using Seville oranges

How many oranges are there in Seville?
On the official count there are 31,306 orange trees in the city of Seville, producing just over 4 million kilos of oranges.

There’s still time to get to Seville to see the orange trees in full fruit, or in full bloom. A few weeks after the harvest (late February-early March) is orange blossom season, when for about three weeks the city is full of the smell of the azahar. This is one of the best times of year to visit Seville, but book an apartment now, while there’s still space!

Seville Oranges

seville orangesOne of the first things many visitors to Seville notice is the orange trees. They line many of the streets and squares, more of them than any other type of tree in Seville, enough to make the city one of the most densely wooded parts of Spain. From autumn to around the end of January, when they are harvested, they are laden with fruit of an almost startling orange, but before that the fruit are a greenish colour, and can be mistaken for limes.

The trees are actually a variety of bitter orange, scientific name citrus x aurentium, and despite being everywhere in Seville, they are not, in fact, native to Spain, but to south-east Asia, and were brought here by the Arabs in the 12th century. Although sweet oranges are grown in other places in Spain, for the city streets the Moorish rulers preferred bitter oranges, as people wouldn’t pick them to eat, and the trees would retain their decorative aspect.

azaharThe trees blossom in early spring, producing delicate white flowers called azahar, a name derived from the Arabic for “white flower”, and for two or three weeks their distinctive scent fills the air, and is an important part of the “spring experience” in Seville. Extracts of the azahar are used for perfumes and scented water, and have a mild tranquilising effect.

Strangely enough, the Spanish make very little use of the fruit themselves. After harvesting, most of the fruit is shipped off to – where else? – England, where it is used to make that very traditional English breakfast food, Oxford marmalade. Seville oranges are widely considered to be the best in the world for this purpose, because the high natural pectin content helps the marmalade to set correctly. It is also said, though I can’t vouch for it personally, that the oranges from the Patio de Banderas next to the Alcázar Palace, are sent as a gift from the King of Spain to the Queen of England for making her own special marmalade.

If you want to try your hand at making your own marmalade while the oranges are in season, this is an easy Orange Marmalade Recipe from the BBC’s good food guide.