Friday, February 13, 2015

The Fake Count, the Imaginary Pirates, and the 100% Real Grapefruit

So you’re about to sit down to a delicious fresh grapefruit for breakfast. Or maybe you’ve sectioned one up for a fruit salad, or even for a salsa or dinner dish with shrimp. And you’re wondering...hey, why do they call it a “grapefruit” anyway?

As you might imagine, we know the answer. Want to take a guess?

(Warning: Answer given below.)

Grapefruit growing in clusters.
The correct answer is b. We’ll forgive you if you didn’t know, since not that many people are lucky enough to have seen this juicy, succulent fruit growing.

Though the word is not Creole, grapefruit does originate from the Caribbean—either Jamaica or Barbados. Grapefruit, a relatively new fruit, is actually a hybrid of the sweet orange and another type of citrus, the pommelo. No one really knows if the fruit arose naturally or was deliberately created. And incidentally, it didn’t start out being called a grapefruit. It originally went by the name “shattuck” or “shaddock,” after a Captain Shaddock who, legend has it, first brought pommelo seeds to the Caribbean.

Legend has it that Captain Shaddock, of the East Indian Trading Company,
introduced pommelo seeds to the Caribbean.

So how did the grapefruit make its way to Florida? We have an interesting character named Odet Philippe to thank. The mists of history have obscured much of the story of Philippe, and Philippe added to the problem by telling some tall tales about himself.

"Count" Odet Philippe
You see, Philippe claimed to be a count, to have grown up with Napoleon and later served as his chief surgeon, to have been the nephew of King Louis XVI of France, and to have traveled with famous pirates of legend. Over time, however, historians have come to seriously question all of these assertions. What we do know is that in the 1820s, Philippe became the first European settler in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where he built a plantation on an ancient Native American burial mound.

There, he grew large groves of tropical fruits, and eventually began to specialize in grapefruit, which he had learned about in his travels in the Caribbean.  Philippe gave freely of his seeds, and also helped his neighbors learn how to graft citrus. He is credited with beginning to popularize grapefruit in Florida, and some even consider him the father of “citrus culture” in Florida.

Today, a park in the town of Safety Harbor, FL marks where Philippe’s house and groves once stood, and citrus trees still bear on the property.  In 2011, Safety Harbor held a festival celebrating grapefruit and its unique connection to the area. It featured the planting of a grapefruit tree, grapefruit treats, and even a grapefruit line dance.

Safety Harbor and Philippe Park
While Odet Philippe may not have been a count, sailed with pirates, known Napoleon, or even been a doctor at all, history agrees that he did bring grapefruit to Florida, which is now among the world’s top producers of this beloved, delicious, sweet-tart fruit. We think he did pretty well for himself, no matter what.

Image Credits

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