Which came first, the fruit or the color orange? The answer depends on whether we are tracing the English word or the Sanskrit or Old French versions which predate the English translation by several centuries. The fruit was known early, but described generally as being “yellow-red” or “red-yellow” in color.

The village of Orange in France was founded about 36 or 35 BC. It was named Arausio initially and the Principality of Orange was apparently named for that place and not for the color. The color was adopted by the House of Orange-Nassau after the sixteenth century, and the color began to be associated with Protestantism due to the afore-mentioned House of Orange siding with the Protestants in the French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) and the Dutch Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648).

The word was absorbed into Middle English from the Old French and Anglo-Norman orenge during the 13th century and was used for the fruit. It was roughly another three centuries before the word came to mean the color of the fruit. The color may have come from the word naranja, (Sanskrit) or naranj (Persian).

Let’s look quickly at the development of the word orange. Nathan Bailey defined it [1675] simply as the fruit grown in an orangery, but orenges [sic] were said to be little “balls of an orange color”. As late as 1869 Noah Webster’s etymological dictionary defined orange as fruit and orangery as a place where oranges were grown. He made no mention of it as a color. In 1887, Chambers defined it as a fruit and a color composed of red and yellow. Finally, in 1900 Walter Skeat said the word derived from narenge, “but with the initial n lost (in Italian), and then arenge became orenge by a popular etymology from gold. Naranja – an orange – Ital. arancio, an orange – Pers. Naranj, narinj, narang, an orange. “ – “A Concise Etymological Dictionary of the English Language.”.

The Orangemen or Orange Order is a Protestant fraternal society founded in Belfast in 1795/6 and named for William of Orange (Protestant) who defeated the Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

This was a very brief look at a broad topic, but those interested in more on the early history and etymology of the word can continue where I’ve left off. Let’s look at a few early mentions of the word in English.

Christopher Columbus reportedly brought oranges to the New World in 1493 and by the mid-16th century Spanish explorers, probably Ponce de Leon, had orange trees planted around St. Augustine, FL.

Jose de Acosta, 1590, wrote a page on the orange groves in the Indies.

George Sandys documented oranges growing while touring France and Italy in 1610.

Noah Biggs discussed the merits of oranges in 1651, London.

William Hughes said, “There are in America, in most of the Caribbee-Islands, many orange trees naturally growing in the woods and deserts, where are as yet no inhabitants nigh them; as upon Hispaniola and Cuba; but especially upon Jamaica, where are the most that ever I saw at a place called Orange-Bay, where they grow so plentifully, that they are the only trees of that place…”. [1672]

Richard Ligon found orange trees as well as lemons in Barbados, 1673.

The French Gardener, 1690, listed Bigarrades, China, Spanish, Genoa, Portugal, and Province oranges.

In The Present State of Europe, oranges and orange trees in flower were set before King James and his wife, 1698.

Richard Bradley documented the presence of oranges, lemons, etc. in English kitchens in 1727.

John Bartram and William Stork quoted a letter written from St. Augustine in 1765 saying oranges grew well in East Florida.

Thomas Ashe described groves of oranges in Louisiana and noted they, “thrive to the highest perfection”. – “Travels in America”. 1808.

Both sweet and sour oranges were growing around Charleston, SC by the early part of 1800. – Guthrie, William. “A New Geographical, Historical and Commercial Grammar.” Vol. II. 1815. Philadelphia.

Oranges from Florida were sold in the markets in Philadelphia by 1825/26 as noted by Karl Bernard. “Travels to North America During the Years 1825 and 1826”.

Oranges were left in Christmas stockings because they were expensive, having to be transported long distances to most households. Receiving apples, oranges, and nuts was a tradition that carried over into my own childhood. My uncle bought a case of each every year.

Eighteenth century cookery writers had various ways and means by which oranges were used. Below are a few simple early recipes.

ZEST OF CHINA ORANGES. Pare off the outside rind of the oranges very thin, and only strew it with fine powder-sugar as much as their own moisture will take, and dry them in a hot stove.

ORANGE CAKES. Take out the inside, picking out the seeds and skins; boil the rind till tender, changing the water; dry and chop it, put it to the inside; to one pound of this, one pound of sugar; boil it candy high, first well wetted; take it off the fire, stir in the orange, scald it: when almost cold drop it on plates. Dry the cakes in a stove. – Charlotte Mason. 1777.

TO PRESERVE ORANGE-FLOWERS. Pick the flowers, and little oranges and stalks and put them in your glasses, but one in a glass just fit for them, and boil the syrup till it is almost a jelly, then fill up your glasses; when they are cold, paper them up and keep them in a dry place. – Charles Carter. 1761.

ORANGE SHRUB. Take two gallons of soft Jamaica rum, one quart of fresh lime juice, eight pounds of refined loaf sugar, consolidate them together, then add twenty-four sweet oranges, and twenty-six lemons cut up fine; in about two weeks it will be ready for use. This will make very delightful Punch.

ORANGE COMPOTE. Is made without boiling the oranges; they are only to be peeled, cut in slices, the core taken out; add some syrup or sugar in powder, and the juice of an orange. William Jarrin. 1829.

ORANGE AND LEMON WHIPT CREAM. Rub or rasp on a piece of sugar the peel of two fine Seville oranges; scrape off the sugar as it imbibes the essence, mash it very fine, and add it to your cream. Lemon cream is made in the same manner.

Various authors gave recipes for orange marmalade, orange jelly, orange wine, orange brandy, orange shrub, etc. See a previous post regarding the early growth of oranges around New Orleans and Mobile.
Blissful Meals, yall. – THF.