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Orange juice, peel, or zest, was used in a variety of foods through the 18th century and into the 19th, and because I like to use ingredients that were available for the time and place of my demonstrations, I took a look to see if using them would have been within my means in the mid-18th century at Ft. Toulouse in Lower Louisiana.   [Today Alabama]

I found several tidbits regarding oranges being grown around Mobile and New Orleans at that time and since I’ve documented several traders coming into this area, I feel quite comfortable with having them in a quantity enough to use in recreating some of the receipts from that era. 

Sister Marie-Madeliene Hachard was a nun in a convent in New Orleans and her letters to her family back in France speak of several foods available to her, including oranges.

Reverend Father de Beaubois has the most beautiful garden in the city.  It is full of orange trees, which bear oranges as beautiful and sweet as the ones in Cape Francais.  He gave us three hundred sour ones that we preserved.

That passage tells me that oranges were plentiful in that area, plentiful enough that baskets of them could easily have found their way up river to Ft. Toulouse for trading with the French and maybe the natives. 

Peter Joseph Hamilton wrote that Bienville grew oranges in his orchard in 1719, and that Haldimand thanked Rochon for trees and oranges in Mobile in 1768.  Oranges were included in the list of items he documented as being exported from Mobile. 

Le Page du Pratz, an early 18th century trader in the area, also commented on the availability of fresh oranges. 

The orange-trees and citron-trees that were brought from Cape Francois have succeeded extremely well…The oranges and citrons are as good as those of other countries; but the rind of the orange in particular is very thick, which makes it the better for a sweet-meat. [candied orange peel]

Hamilton wrote that, “by the [17] twenties, the culture of indigo had been added to that of rice and tobacco, while the fig-tree had been introduced from Provence, and the orange from Hispaniola”.  With that passage we see that the orange trees in Lower Louisiana came from more than one area, therefore, were most likely somewhat different in characteristics.   

Nichols elaborated further saying, “In America there grow oranges of all sorts in great plenty, and as good as in any part of the world, and some as bad, for there are both sweet and sour, bitter and insipid.”

In addition to Cape Francois and Hispaniola, Herbermann left records of oranges having also been brought from San Domingo.  Since Father Boudoin died in 1766, he also confirms that oranges were growing in the area during the occupation of Ft. Toulouse. 

Father Boudoin, S.J., the benefactor of the colony, who had introduced the culture of sugar-cane and oranges from San Domingo, and figs from Provence, a man to whom the people owed much and to whom Louisiana to-day owes so much of its prosperity, alone remained.

A passage from the Louisiana Historical Society penned in 1917 echoed Herbermann’s opinion.

They were aware that to the Jesuits Louisiana owed its sugar cane, its orange and fig trees…

In 1854, the following passage was written regarding the citrus of the New Orleans and Mobile area which gives us a hint as to the flavor of some of the early fruits. 

The sweet Seville orange-tree is indeed cultivated in the neighbourhood of New-Orleans, but liable also at that place to be destroyed by frost.  [1819] 

Du Pratz agreed that cold killed the trees but that they came back from the roots the next season.   

The orange-trees and citron-trees that were brought from Cape Francois have succeeded extremely well; however I have seen so severe a winter that those kinds of trees were entirely frozen to the very trunk.  In that case they cut the trees down to the ground, and the following summer they produced shoots that were better than the former.  If these trees have succeeded in the flat and moist soil of New Orleans, what may we not expect when they are planted in better soil, and upon declivities of a good exposure?

Even though the trees grew back from the roots and produced a good quality orange, doing so would have slowed down the production until the trees were of sufficient size to produce again.  Perhaps we should ask how often such a set-back occurred and for that answer we look to The Christian Advocate, 1899.

Low Temperature in Louisiana—The orange trees of Louisiana for one hundred years stood the winter, but within twelve years they have met with three severe shocks.  Oranges suffer in any temperature under fifteen degrees above zero.  Old trees can stand colder weather than younger.  Until within twelve years the temperature in Louisiana never got below fifteen degrees.  The last shock, a short time ago, went to five or eight degrees below, in the orange belt, and an examination leaves no doubt that the orange groves are destroyed…

The California Illustrated Magazine agreed that the Louisiana oranges had done well until roughly 1880.

Formerly oranges were grown quite extensively in Louisiana, but during the last decade the trees have been repeatedly frozen down and the industry is now practically destroyed. 

I found it harder to document the growth of lemons than oranges in Louisiana, but the following newspaper clipping seems to indicate lemons may have been grown there as well.  The climate of the north is temperate, and the soil yields apples, pears, peaches and other fruit.  In the south it is warm, and oranges, figs, and lemons flourish.”  [1841]

How did the quality of the oranges compare to those in other lands?  The Mobile Herald said Louisiana oranges from New Orleans and Pascagoula were, “generally larger than the ones raised in the neighborhood of Havana and much superior in flavor.” 

The Shaddock:  …the pulp is juicy and sweetish.  The plant forms an excellent stock for grafting other kinds upon; the fruit makes a splendid show at table, and is found cooling and refreshing.  It has been grown successfully in the open air in the city and vicinity of Mobile.  M. Boiteau considers the “forbidden fruit” of the shops to be a variety of this species, but others make it a variety of the lemon.  [1854]

We’ve  documented that citrus was grown and relatively plentiful in and around New Orleans and Mobile.  We’ve documented that the seeds and trees came from various locations and that there were probably several types of oranges grown in the area.  Next, we must ask ourselves how would traders have gotten baskets of oranges to the French and Creeks at Ft. Toulouse.  Hamilton again provides the answer.

The French usually carried on their trade from Mobile by river; there was, however, a land route to Fort Toulouse.  There was also a good road running through the Choctaw Country west of, and not far from the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers by which the Choctaws traded with the French.  Another road ran from Mobile to the Chicasa towns.  There were likewise routes by which the traders from Pensacola reached the Choctaws and Creeks. 

In Part II of this article we’ll look at some ways oranges were used in 18th century receipts.

SOURCES:

From The American Farmer’s Magazine.  Vol. 6, I. 1.  May 1854.

Hamilton, Peter Joseph.  Colonial Mobile.  1897.  Boston.

Hamilton, Peter Joseph.  Colonial Mobile:  An Historical Study, Largely from Original Sources. 

Du Pratz, Le Page.  The History of Louisiana:  Or the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina.  1775.  London.

The American Monthly Magazine and Critical Review.  Vol. 4.  H. Biglow, Orville Luther Holley.  Jan. 1819.

Herbermann, Charles George.  The Catholic Encyclopedia.  1911.  NY.

Louisiana Historical Soc.  Publications.  1917.  New Orleans.

Hamilton, Peter Joseph.  The Colonization of the South.  1904.  London.

The Christian Advocate.  March 2, 1899.

Peter Parley’s Common School History.  Goodrich, Samuel Griswold.  1841.  Philadelphia.

June 6, 1849.  Reported in the Niles National Register. 

The Letters of Marie Madeleine Hachard 1727-8.  New Orleans. 

Hachard, Voices From an Early American Convent 1727-60.  Edited by Clark, Emily.  Boise State Univ.

The Californian Magazine.  Oct. 1891. 

Nichols, John.  The Gentleman’s Magazine.  Oct. 1795. London.

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