Don’t Eat the Oranges!

Don’t Eat the Oranges!

But the oranges looked so good!

Oranges and fruits of my youth

As a boy growing up in England, fruit was a luxury. We had satsumas in our Christmas stockings; we had stuff like tinned peaches and pineapple, and nobody had bowls of fruit in England unless there was illness in the house.

In England, the national pastime for small boys is scrumping. Scrumping is, strictly speaking, illegal and one of those things that is charming and scampish when you are eight years old but tends to be frowned upon once you hit 50.

I would happily sit in an apple tree, munching on sour cooking apples while keeping watch for any trouble. Usually, trouble was the owner of the tree poking me with a stick and shouting abuse.

So, my upbringing included a little fruit. Imagine my surprise and delight when I arrived in Greece and found what was growing there!

Ripe red pomegranates hung over walls ready for plucking. Grape vines fat with fruit poked through fences and walls with delicious black and green grapes. Peaches and plum trees grow wild everywhere. Alex grew up with this abundance. No sour cooking apples for her! She had her choice of the most luxurious fruit available everywhere. She just needed to reach out and pick it fresh from the trees.


I picked the orange. Image of a hand picking an orange from a tree
I couldn’t believe I could just pick as many as I wanted.


Greek oranges

During our first visit to Athens, I couldn’t believe the number of orange trees. Every street had these growing. Bright orange fruit hanging on green branches, some windfalls laying discarded on the floor.

“Can I pick one? “I asked Alex.

“Of course, as many as you like,” she replied.

For me, this was remarkable. Where I came from, fruit trees were guarded and always owned by someone. Now, here I was looking along a line of ripe fresh oranges ready for picking, and the best bit was, nobody minded if I ate a few.

I reached up and pulled at a big orange. It came away from the branch in my hand. I had never picked an orange from a tree before. This, in itself, was an unfamiliar experience. I held it to my nose and breathed in the orange-y essence. Dug my thumbnail into the skin, which came away easily, revealing the perfectly formed fruit within. I took a segment and popped it into my mouth.

It was disgusting… There was no sweet orange taste. Just a combination of noxious fumes and acid filling my mouth. It was such an overpowering taste; it made my lips burn, and my ears were buzzing as I spat it out into my hand and looked around for something else to put in my mouth to take the taste away. “It must be a bad one”, I thought. I quickly picked another, hurriedly peeled it and stuffed it into my mouth. That was even more horrible than the last. This one felt like I had been chewing a stinging nettle as my throat went prickly.


A trick!

Alex knew what these were but had no intention of spoiling the fun by telling me before I took a bite. She giggled as I screwed up my face and threw the rest of the nasty fruit onto the road to join the other windfalls.

These are not the sweet edible type. They are Nerantzi, otherwise known as Seville orange.

Greeks found the bitter variety easy to grow and used these oranges to make marmalades and sweets.

But they do have other uses.


Don't eat Greek oranges. Image of a tree full of oranges
Sadly, these are not for eating but…


What to do with bitter oranges

These bitter oranges also have a long history of being used as projectiles. In the days of WWII, demonstrators in Athens used them against German occupation forces, more recently, junta policemen, or modern riot police. Lately, after the “crisis” began, observers noticed city cleaning crews carefully removing all the fruit in the city centre to deprive potential protestors of any ammunition.

So, if you are thinking of joining the Greek pastime of throwing things at officials, that would be fine.


Just don’t eat one!


Read more:

“You don’t like my food?”


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