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The Forbidden Fruit: Grapefruit

The Forbidden Fruit: Grapefruit

Chef Clyde Serda | Chef's Blade

It was Griffith Hughes in 1750, who first described the Grapefruit as the “Forbidden Fruit”, which he found growing in Barbados. Later in 1789, it was reported growing in most parts of Jamaica. In 1823, that Count Odette Phillipe took grapefruit seeds from the Bahama Islands to Safety Harbor near Tampa, Florida where he planted them. Once the trees bared fruit their seeds were distributed around the area. Up until 1837, it was believed to be a sport of the Pomelo, until classified by James Mac Fayden in his book Flora of Jamaica as a separate fruit from the pomelo and gave it the botanical name, Citrus paradisi macf. This stood until 1948, when botanists suggested that the grapefruit was actually an accidental hybrid between the pomelo and the orange. This view has been widely accepted and the name changed to Citrus X paradist.

Because the grapefruit tree is resilient to frost and quick cold snaps, which can freeze the tree to the ground, but the tree will still come back with new growth, called sports, it became a quick growing industry in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. Grapefruits are also grown in Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil and imported into the United States. However, because of fruit fly larvae and other pests, Japan, the main importer of grapefruit—Japanese love the acidity and tartness of grapefruits—has sometimes staved off importing the fruit until fungicide or pesticide residues fell within proper levels from the shipping countries.

Harvesting can also be brutal! These trees have huge thorns. In days past it took 3 pickers who either cut or snapped off the fruit at the stem. Pickers climbed ladders and worked the tree from the inside out. Three good pickers could pick about 45 fifty-pound boxes per day—actually, I have an uncle who could pick 50 by himself! However, with use of the modern olive tree shaker, those three pickers can now harvest 150 to 188 boxes, with less damage to the fruit. Like most citrus fruit, which is harvested mature and ripe, but may still be green in peel color, the fruit is de-greened by chilling and are given a blast of ethylene gas for a prescribed period of time. Usually at that time they are also given a shot of fungicide to prevent shelf rot.

Most grapefruit used in this country is either consumed as a breakfast juice (in which the acid and tartness tends to open one’s eyes) or as a breakfast fruit served in half. It is also peeled and sectioned then used in fruit salads or as a garnish. It is common to have grapefruit halves arrive pre-sectioned (using a curved grapefruit knife) with a heap of brown sugar or honey and placed under the broiler until caramelized, topped with a maraschino cherry, and a nice price tag.

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