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California Citrus

Updated on September 19, 2014

Growing up with oranges

In the winter, the smudge pots put out their own particular fragrance. It was cold but the fruit would survive. In the spring, the fragrance from the orange blossoms, filled the air. In Southern California is the early 1950s, orange groves were everywhere. Our job, as kids, was to clean the errant smudge oil off the windows outside. Living directly across the street from the orange grove brought us both smells. Even now, both the smell of smudge oil and orange blossoms makes me homesick.

Orange crates were everywhere and used in homes as bookcases. We didn't care about the labels because no one realized that one day, they would be worth money.

It didn't matter if you were in Los Angeles County, Riverside County or Orange County, orange groves filled the area. Orange groves lined Hwy 99 on a trip to Huntington Beach. No one paid too much attention, they were just a fact of life.

Today, very few groves remain. Land and water prices have driven most of the groves out of business. Where there were once groves, only the palms that lined the roads remain. Houses now stand where the trees stood. Still, there are still bits of history that live on. It was great growing up with oranges.

Sunkist fruit slices

1lb Sunkist Fruit Gems Box
1lb Sunkist Fruit Gems Box

Doesn't reading about oranges make you want the Sunkist fruit slices? It does for me but maybe it's because I grew up across the street from a Sunkist orange grove and every time I think of oranges I start craving the candy. Makes a great gift too.


Smudge Pots

To appreciate a smudge pot, you must like the smell of low-grade diesel oil (smudge oil). The bottom of the device was filled with the oil and then lit on fire. The heat produced from the smudge pot, radiated out, keeping the fruit on the orange trees from freezing. They were outlawed as dangerous to the environment but one never forgets the warmth they provided or the smell.

Some smudge pots used kerosene and other fuels but the most prevalent were the smudge oil burners.

The last original orange tree remaining in Riverside, CA - The tree was planted in 1873

In 1873, the Department of Agriculture sent three navel orange trees to Eliza Tibbets to see if they would grow in the area. The trees thrived and started what is know as the 2nd gold rush, making Riverside, CA, the orange growing capital of the country. One tree died early and the two remaining trees did well. When the Mission Inn was being restored, one tree was transplanted there but did not live. The remaining tree is still being cared for on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Arlington Avenue in Riverside, CA. To keep it healthy, rootstock is grafted to the tree when the old stock can no longer support it.

Orange history

Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden
Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden

More about the orange history is a book that is well written.


Unofficial Survey - Oranges in Christmas Stockings

In 1900, the California Orange Grower's Association (later changed to Sunkist) decided that the overabundance or Navel oranges that ripened in December had to be more effectively marketed. They created an ad campaign to build on the tradition that orange were to fill out the toe of the stocking. The ad was "to put a little sunshine in your stocking". We always got an orange and I thought it was a Texas tradition, moved to California with the family. Later I found that people from all over the country received oranges as well. Did you?

Did you or do you get an orange in your Christmas stocking?

See results

Orange gift basket


"Say the Magic words, say Mission Pak and it's on its merry way! No gift so bright, so gay, so right, give the Mission Pak magic way!") Ok, Mission Pack is no longer in business but the fruit baskets they shipped every year were appreciated by those who received them.


Interesting tidbit

George C Page (1901 - 2000) is best know as the namesake of the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits.

He came to California when he was 16. That was soon after he had tasted his first orange and he once said, "I was so awed by the beauty of that piece of fruit that I said, 'I hope someday I can live where that came from.'"

He is the one who started Misson Pak when he realized that he was sending orange home to his mother and many of her associates. He went on to become a real estate developer and financed one of the buildings at the Children's Hospital in Los Angeles.

Buddah's Hand

The original orange

One of the original sources of the spice "citron". The "fingered citron", also known as "Buddah's Hand", has no juice and originates from China. It is thought that the citrus fruits we have today, started with this fruit and all the others are genetic mutations. One of the customs associated with this fruit is that one gives away the fingers at New Year to provide the receiver with good luck.

Crate Labels - An art form created by the various fruit co-ops to distinguish their fruit from the other growers.

The originals are collectible and are great decorations for any home. There are many reproductions on the market. Crate labels were phased out with the invention of cardboard shipping boxes.

The Daisy label is my favorite as it was the grower of the oranges across the street.

Reader Feedback

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    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 5 years ago from Templeton, CA

      The lens brings back a lot of memories. There's a reason Orange County is named what it is. It used to be almost all oranges and avocados. Very few of the orchards remain, as you have said. I remember the smudge pots, too.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      The "smudge pot" photo actually shows a return stack heater. Smudge oil, coal and even old tires were used as fuel but probably not kerosine. Before the heaters smudge pots were used to make a layer of smoke to keep heat in, in theory. In reality, the smoke kept out the sun once it came up. Smudge pots were outlawed in the L.A. Basin in 1957 not as an "environmental danger" but as an air pollution measure. Much more on this and other citrus topics at Yahoo's Citrus Industry Modeling Group.

    • RCGraphicsDesign profile image

      RCGraphicsDesign 6 years ago

      I grew up in South Florida and as a young adult my property was surrounded by orange groves on three sides. Your lens really brought back memories of my younger days. Great presentation.

    • HealthfulMD profile image

      Kirsti A. Dyer 6 years ago from Northern California

      My Dad remembers riding through orange groves on his horse as a kid.

    • jadehorseshoe profile image

      jadehorseshoe 6 years ago

      Terrific Lens!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      What a wonderful lens - I love a bit of citrus to brighten up my day. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      What a sweet memoir!

      I grew up in the inner city and close suburbs in LA (in the '60s). I never saw orange groves in my area, but occasionally on car rides I've seen some in parts of Orange County.

      One house that we used to live in had a tangerine tree! We had lovely free fruit all winter when we lived there.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      Interesting story about California Citrus. I've read many books that take place in your area and they often describe how the whole area used to be covered with orange groves. Friends in San Luis Obispo (CA) had an orange tree growing in the middle of the deck in their yard and we used to pick the oranges right off the tree! Wonderful memories.

    • profile image

      Wyrdcrow 6 years ago

      Really enjoyed this lens. I'd never heard of the Buddha's Hand before - what an extraordinary looking thing!

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Goad 6 years ago

      I remember when I took my young daughters to Disneyworld over 25 years ago and there were orange groves surrounding the Magic Kingdom. Now there are not as many to be seen. Miss them.

      As usual, a very well crafted article from you!

    • profile image

      AngryBaker 6 years ago

      My dad had a wholesale citrus nursery in La Verne, CA... I grew up surrounded by over 30 varieties of citrus. You brought back tons of memories... thanks

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I do love California citrus, lol...and I used to get an orange in my Christmas stocking when I was a child. Very enjoyable lens.

    • LotusLandry profile image

      LotusLandry 6 years ago from Southern California

      My college had a nightclub called the Smudge Pot.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Mmmm, I could almost smell the orange groves as I visited this page. I've never seen a Buddha's Hand fruit before, most interesting.

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 6 years ago from Redcar

      I really enjoyed your lense. Great fun.

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 6 years ago

      How interesting with Buddha's hand! I used to have a lemon tree in my garden, it was fantastic!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      What a fun lens on oranges. I live in Arizona now and you described the smell of the orange blossoms perfectly. It is sumptuous!

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 7 years ago from La Verne, CA

      My town, La Verne was citrus land. I will put this lens in its Discovery tool. Good match up. My house is sitting on an old orange grove.

    • GramaBarb profile image

      GramaBarb 7 years ago from Vancouver

      I smiled when I read about your smudge pots. We had smudge pots in northern BC, Canada when I was a child. They consisted of slow burning punk wood that produced thick smoke and the smoke kept the thick swarms of mosquitoes away. We preferred the smoke over getting eaten alive :)

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      You'd be rich today if you had saved all those orange crates with labels.....