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John McPhee’s reportage on oranges started as a magazine article and developed into a book, first written in 1966, and revised in 2006. It covers the farm to plate, and history to location, and almost everything in between – in seven sections: 1) Oranges, 2) Orange Men, 3) Citris sinensis, 4) Orangeries, 5) India River, 6) Degrees Brix, and 7) Orange Baron. 

The book starts with an orange juice machine and ends with concentrated orange juice. In between is the story of real oranges and real pressed juice. First from an American perspective, it goes global and discusses the difference in appearance and taste between varieties, locations, weather, water, and temperature. It discusses citrus scientists, growers, packers, and juicers.

I like the section on orangeries and the French kings and queens who invested in them, primarily because orange blossoms are the symbol of love. The section on citriculture in France and Germany is interesting too. Alchemist and fortune teller Nostradamus published a book in 1556 on how to prepare various cosmetics from oranges and their blossoms, but McPhee omitted anything on the enduring use of citrus scent in perfume.

I like the many facts and figures scattered throughout the book, such as ‘lightning kills as many orange trees as any disease.’ And ‘in the fourteenth century in Ceylon, men who dived into lakes to search the bottom for precious stones first rubbed their bodies with orange peel oil in order to repel crocodiles and poisonous snakes.’

I’m not a fan of orange juice, but I appreciate McPhee’s fact-filled, amusing style that is interesting, entertaining, and easy-to-read.  

Photographer: Martina Nicolls

MARTINA NICOLLS – MartinaNicollsWebsite

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