100% Premium Virginia Orange Juice

100% Premium Virginia Orange Juice

Fall has finally arrived, and that means here in the Blue Ridge mountains it’s time to start picking oranges. Yes, that’s right. Move over, Tropicana, make way for… Poncirus trifoliata.

Ok, so maybe you’re suspicious, and maybe rightfully so. But the first time we found a trifoliate or hardy orange grove growing in the woods off Bradshaw Road between Roanoke and Blacksburg, we were thinking backyard citrus farms and locally sourced juice. Now that we’re a bit more educated, we’ve tempered our enthusiasm, but the hardy orange is indeed a remarkable plant. 

A true citrus variety, this small tree lives as far north as hardiness zone 6 – that’s down to -10 degrees! It can grow to over 20 feet tall. A couple weeks ago, when my family and in-laws encountered the local orange grove laden with small yellow fruit, we were ready to dive in among the branches and start picking. Not so fast! In addition to oranges, the trees feature vicious 2-inch long curved thorns, which once in are not so easily out. With care, we filled a few bagfuls of the most accessible fruit.

Home with our treasure, the first thing we noticed was the pungent, almost exotic, scent of the fruit. But we also wanted to experiment with the taste. My wife juiced several oranges and we all tried it. Yikes! Even with a generous amount of sugar added, the taste is bitingly sour, closest to a lemon but with a better, richer flavor. I suppose that helps to explain why there are so few citrus farms in western Virginia. (Of the fruit, Wikipedia intones, “most people consider them inedible fresh”.) Nevertheless, our sons have been eating them raw and enjoying them. 

The fruit is most often used for potpourri, spices, garnish, or preserves. However, I am still of the opinion that if humans can develop a taste for grapefruit, coffee, or whiskey, we can develop a taste for hardy oranges. As part of a regular diet, I certainly imagine they pack in the Vitamin C and heartburn.

Other interesting uses of the trees are as rootstock on which other, less hardy, citrus can be grafted; ornamental landscaping; and privacy barriers. Yes, it would take serious dedication to push through a hedge of those thorns.

So, in conclusion; it’s a bit premature to quit sending your hard-earned money to Florida and start growing your own citrus grove. But I can see hardy orange trees playing an important part in my future agrarian commune. Even if it’s to keep the neighbors from seeing what I’m up to. 

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Tim Carr

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