256 pages, 20 colour plates
Walk into your local grocery store and down the produce aisle, and you'll find a dazzling array of citrus, from navel oranges and clementines to grapefruit and key limes-and sometimes even more exotic fare like the Japanese yuzu, the baboon lemon, or the Ugli fruit, whose thick, wrinkly rind lends it its name. Nearly 100 million tons of citrus are produced globally every year. But where did these fruits first come from? How did they find their way into the Western world? And how did they become both a culinary and cultural phenomenon?
Pierre Laszlo here traces the spectacular rise and spread of citrus across the globe: from Southeast Asia in 4000 BC through North Africa and the Roman Empire to early modern Spain and Portugal, whose explorers introduced the fruits to the Americas during the 1500s. Blending scientific rigor with personal curiosity, Citrus ransacks over two millennia of world history, exploring the numerous roles that citrus has played in agriculture, horticulture, cooking, nutrition, religion, and art-from the Jewish feast of the Tabernacles through the gardens and courts of Versailles to the canvasses of Vincent van Gogh to the orange groves of southern California and the juicing industry of today.
"Did you know there are a billion citrus trees under cultivation, or that grapefruit juice may potentiate the effects of Viagra? Citrus mines over two millennia of history to explore the spread of these fruits out of Asia, their commercialisation in the United States, and [their] enduring symbolism the world over."
- New Scientist
"A short but brilliant account of 6000 years of citrus fruits that should be devoured with fervour."
- Financial Times
"Laszlo is what Dr. Doolittle called a good noticer, a connoisseur of life's quirks and particularities, of all that is glorious in the everyday [...] Altogether charming, eccentric, erudite, and definitely worth the price."
- Sheila Dillon, Times Higher Education
"Stimulating. . . . Laszlo, a retired French chemist, takes us on a journey from the orangeries of Versailles, via the limes of the Royal Navy to the citriculture of modern Florida. It was only in the 1920s, he tells us, that orange juice became ‘an integral part of the American breakfast,’ after the great flu epidemic of 1918-19. Laszlo shows that the citrus fruit ‘is a treasure trove of chemicals that are highly useful to humankind’ – which also happens to taste wonderful."
- Bee Wilson, Sunday Times (UK)
"A nicely produced hardback with colour plates, which will entertain foodies and culturally replete retirees with time on their hands. Laszlo [...] provides a colorful global history of citrus and citriculture as well as presenting a variety of delicious recipes."
- The Age
"Looks at the widespread availability of citrus fruits as an example of how foodstuffs have been propagated around the world [...] Should help any experimental scientist to become a better cook."
- Peter Barhamn, Nature
"Laszlo colorfully unpacks the cultural, economic, and gastronomic significance of the long-sought-after citrus fruits. It is a labor of love for Laszlo, a chemist whose gift for storytelling extends to the molecular level."
- Danielle Maestretti, Utne Review
Prologue: Letter to a Fellow Writer
One Domestication of Exotic Species
1 Introduction, Including a Definition of Citrus Plants and Fruit
2 Transplantation to Europe
3 Acclimatization to the New World
4 Nurturing Citriculture
Two Mining Value from Citrus
5 California Dreamin’
6 Making Lemonade out of Lemons
7 Drinking the Orange
8 Extracting the Essence from the Peel
Three Symbolic Extractions
9 Symbolic Meanings of Citrus
10 Images of Citrus in Prose
11 Images of Citrus in Poetry
12 Fruit as Image
13 Preserving Nature—or Changing It?
14 Make It Scarce?
Epilogue: Answer from a Fellow Writer
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Pierre Laszlo is professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Liège and the École Polytechnique. He is the author of numerous works, among them Salt: Grain of Life.