Whenever I walk through the streets of Barcelona and see orange trees burdened with fruit, I can’t stop admiring them and feeling awed. They grow – just like that! – right in the city, blazing with orange balls of fruit that draw even the eyes of locals long accustomed to them. And what to say about the tourists! Splashed against the blue of the cloudless Spanish sky, these beautiful trees look like a part of a bright, exotic picture created by nature itself.
The tradition of decorating streets and squares with citrus trees was introduced to Spain by the Arabs at the beginning of the 8th century. The orange trees, native to Asia, adapted well to the southern Spanish climate. The Arabs did not stay long in the area of what is now Catalonia and Barcelona, just about 50 years. It is a big chunk of a human life, but for history, it is an instant. But in the south of Spain the Arabs established themselves for 8 centuries!
In spring, the air is filled with the sweet aroma of azahar, orange blossom, but…as always, there is a downside to everything. The orange trees lining the streets of Barcelona belong to the ornamental variety, which bear bitter fruit. Tons of these fruit that fall from the trees is a headache for the city’s cleaning department. Oranges look beautiful in the tree, but once they fall and are crushed, the streets become sticky with sap. Apparently, this is why practical Catalans have left only a reasonable number of these trees in Barcelona without turning it into an orange grove like, for example, the city of Seville in the south of Spain. In Seville, they just don’t know how to get rid of the tons of bitter oranges that Spaniards don’t eat.
Some of the oranges are used to make marmalade, most of which is exported to Britain. Seville oranges are also a key ingredient in the famous Cointreau and Grand Marnier liqueurs.
Incidentally, the origins of marmalade are surrounded by myths and legends. The first handwritten recipe for marmalade dated 1683 was found at Dunrobin Castle in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands. Legend has it that a ship carrying oranges from Spain took shelter from a storm in Dundee Harbor, and local confectioner James Keiller was the first to find a use for the fruit. It may be a myth, but in 1797 Keiller actually produced the first commercial batch of branded marmalade.
Production of … electricity
Recently, the juice of unwanted oranges has found a new application. It is used as biomass for producing … electricity. In Seville, the city started a pilot project using methane from fermented oranges to produce clean electricity for the municipal water treatment plant.
An unexpected solution. And very profitable for everyone.