Sunday, January 29, 2012

Tangerine Dream

We came into a citrus windfall yesterday.  Today, even after sharing a generous bag of tangerines and grapefruits with our friends Jen and Leah, 8 grapefruits and 17 tangerines remained.  I have a recipe to share soon, but first a little about how we came into such a fortune....

Walking home from The Fresh Market yesterday morning, Brian and I passed by a house with 4 or 5 fruit-laden citrus trees in the backyard.  We've passed by many times and I had only seen an elderly woman outside the house once.  It seemed that no one had been picking the fruit, as the trees have been full for weeks, so we knocked on the door to ask if we might take some.  A frail old woman answered and said we could help ourselves to tangerines, on the condition that we pick two bags of 2-dozen for her, and we could have 2-dozen as well.  We were the rare passers-by that asked before taking the fruit, she observed, Southern manners aren't what they used to be.  

We happily obliged and set to work, Helen instructing us in the best way to pick the fruit to avoid tearing the delicate skin.  The tangerines were late this year, she said matter-of-factly, they are usually all finished by Christmas.  Growing up not far from here, her father owned groves of citrus, she remembered.  Those fields are now subdivisions and strip malls, a Lowe's stands where acres of grapefruit trees once bore fruit.

These trees, never tainted by pesticides or chemicals, have been here more than 30 years, Helen told us.  Neglected nowadays she admitted, due to her old age and several recent falls.  She has no one to pick the fruit she said, and cannot eat grapefruits anymore - a compound in them would render her blood pressure medication inactive.  She will eat some of the tangerines we picked, and share the rest with neighborhood children.  The other bag will go to the halfway house where her daughter lives, the residents appreciate the rare opportunity to eat fresh fruit she told us.    

Towering high above us, accessible only by a ladder, clusters of the largest and ripest tangerines hung like grapes, their bright orange like a fiery sun against the blue sky.  Those were the ones we wanted and they taunted us as we climbed, teetering and unsteady but hungry for their sweetness.  Six dozen tangerines were picked in no time, and divided among the three bags.

Did we want grapefruits, asked Helen.  Our eyes became as large as those butter-colored orbs and our gaze drifted to where they hung from the overburdened limbs of the neighboring tree.  Thoughts of fresh-squeezed juice and smoothies, perhaps a greyhound cocktail?  Yes, but the first one would be eaten plain, sliced through its center and eaten with a spoon out of the convenient bowl-shaped half.  She filled a bag with 12 of them.  These here, these are filled with seeds, Helen warned, but they taste the best, the others are pale pink on the inside.

The mile walk home was hurried, as the bag handles seared their imprint into our hands, still fragrant with the citrus oils.  Our bags were heavy with the ripe fruits, their pock-marked skins in shades of golds and glowing embers.  Brian and I talked excitedly of our good fortune and we planned out what to do with such abundance.  Before we had left her house, Helen had invited us to return next Saturday to pick more fruit.  The thought came to us that we couldn't possibly use more, but we will go back.  Not for ourselves but rather for Helen.  I think she would like that.




  1. Yes, yes, yes! And thus a sense of community is born that bridges the generations. I had a Helen in my life. We always stopped for tea in the middle of my cleaning job at her house. Learned so much about her global travels. When E was a baby there was a neighbor with a pear tree and a generous spirit. Cannot tell you how many trips home with a loaded stroller E and I made and oh the fresh baby food puree! Eager to see a pic of your greyhound and other tasty things.

    1. Isn't fruit even better when you pick it yourself?! It makes me so happy knowing without a doubt that this fruit was grown without pesticides and that it originated less than one mile from my home. What a wonderful use for your gifted pears, I'm sure E appreciated it even if she wasn't old enough to say so!

  2. A citrus windfall sounds much better than a financial windfall! I wish our area had citrus. It is so nice that you asked her before taking them, and it sounds like you had a great experience with your citrus-picking afternoon with Helen. Thanks for sharing this story.

    1. Beth, thanks for stopping by! We weren't expecting much to come of our knock on the door since in previous weeks our attempts had been unanswered. It just goes to show that it can't hurt to ask, you might even end up with more than you had dreamed of!

  3. I loved this post - Helen sounds like a real character, I'd love to know if you keep up the weekly visits.


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