My office offers fresh fruit every week and this week the fruit bowl is loaded with mini seedless tangelos, and fat, heavy naval oranges, both deeply orange and tangy.
I cracked a tangelo open and peeled it, trying to peel it in one long peel, and the aroma wafted up.
Suddenly I was taken back to my first home where we had a navel orange tree. I spent many fond years on the teak bench my father built on the edge of the patio under the shade of the orange tree. I would perch there to eat the bright juicy fruit still warm from the sun. We almost lost the tree one year because the baby rabbit my sister found on the edge of the high school’s wilderness area (a space with examples of each California ecosystem, built by my sister and other students) developed a taste for the orange tree bark and almost girdled it. We weaned him off his destructive habits by feeding him regular handfuls of orange and lemon leaves as a treat.
My mom used to make fancy cakes decorated with chocolate leaves using the orange tree leaves as a mold. I would be sent out to the yard to pluck young, perfectly sized and smooth orange leaves, and would be tasked with carefully washing and drying them. Once they were perfectly dry we would paint them with tempered dark chocolate and chill them, and later, slowly, peel off the leaf to reveal a perfect chocolate form.
When my mom remarried, we picked orange blossoms and created fancy rings of ice adorned with the blooms to float in the punch bowl for the wedding reception. Grandmother sadly needed to be moved to the East Coast to live with my aunt, so we stripped the tree of oranges to ship back with them, a last taste of California and nostalgia.
These days, living in my current apartment high above the streets, I keep a copy of Cross Creek by the bathtub for languorous bubble bath reading, and recall the scent of orange blossoms floating in the night. I long for that orange tree, as I buy outrageously priced organic citrus from various places and slice long curls of the peel to drape over the rim of my Negroni at home, and then eat fat wedges of the cut orange the next morning. They never seem to taste quite as heavenly as the one in that childhood home though, the memory of oranges is stronger.