Winter may be a darker month with short days and longer nights but there is one thing that always brightens up this time – the wide variety of colourful and tasty citrus fruits.
Whether they be a freshly peeled orange, mandarin, or later in the season a ruby-red blood orange, the fragrance and flavour of these juicy fruits, they can certainly raise the spirits.
What better sundowner for a winter night than the citrus tang from an orange, combined with exotic cinnamon in a glass of Vin Chaud?
It’s the perfect way to raise the spirits on a chilly December evening, espcially when you’ve picked the fruit yourself!
A juicy harvest festival
All along the Turkish Mediterranean coast, orange groves are now burgeoning with fruit ready to be picked and shipped to market.
From roadside shacks to market stalls, from supermarket shelves to corner shops, boxes and boxes of citrus fruits are everywhere and begging to be purchased,
eaten just as they are, or processed into something wonderful.
Squeeze and freeze
Fancy a freshly squeezed juice? Then pop down to one of the many juice bars along along fethiye sea front or dotted around the town.
Or if you fancy making something special then why not try making jams and marmalades; candied peel or just squeeze and freeze some orange juice.
Local orange crops
The main varieties of oranges grown in Turkey are Washington Navel, which are now at least 75% of Turkey’s crop
and Valencia, which are about 20%.
In the Fethiye, Dalaman and Köyceğiz regions oranges have been a staple crop for the past 50 years and although there is a risk of surpluses lowering
the price of the fruit it does not seem likely, in the short term at least, that citrus farmers will be changing their allegiance to another fruit any time soon.
The heady smell of the orange blossom in spring and the familiar fruit, contrasting against its shiny evergreen leaves during the winter months,
are so much a part of the Mediterranean identity that it seems strange the original orange was not a Mediterranean fruit.
In fact the Turkish word for a sweet orange is portakal, which comes from the word Portugal.
A journey from east to west
Historians believe that this was the nationality of the traders who first introduced the sweet fruit to the region.
It was not until the 15th century that the sweet orange was brought to the Mediterranean and cultivated into the orange we know today.
The words orange and narenciye (the Turkish word for citrus fruits), on the other hand, are derived from the Sanskrit word naranga-s meaning an orange tree.
This links the fruit with India and its journey ever westward because historians and archeologists say the tree originally came from China, where it was cultivated as far back as 2,500 BCE.
A sour fruit…
In its wild state the orange is an extremely sour fruit and perhaps this is the reason why it was something travellers and merchants mostly ignored.
It was a different story when the Romans came across it, and eventually brought some young trees to the port of Ostia in the first century CE.
Unfortunately, following the collapse of the Roman Empire in 500 CE, the fledgling Roman orange industry also suffered the same fate.
… had a second chance
It is thought that Arab traders reintroduced the sour fruit, which became known as the Persian Orange, to the Middle East.
There it was cultivated and prized for its exotic perfume and as a cooking ingredient – particularly to flavour rice.
When the Muslim Moors entered Spain in the eighth and ninth centuries they took oranges with them and by the 12th century, orange orchards proliferated in the sunshine of Granada and Seville.
… and became a sweet treat
Later, in the 15th century, when the sweet orange was brought to the Mediterranean by Portuguese traders.
The sour turunç, a Turkish citrus variety, was then joined by the Seville and sweet Portuguese, or portakal both of which are now grown in Turkey, as well as numerous other countries.
Sadly, the turunç is becoming more and more scarce but if you can find some, the peel can be made into this Turkish sweetmeat.
Whatever you do, enjoy this bountiful time and keep an eye out for the first orange blossoms in the new year, marking the start of next years harvest.