By Lori Grossman
The southernmost tip of Texas, known as the Rio Grande Valley, is home to the World Birding Center, thousands of sun-starved "Winter Texans," and a thriving citrus industry. The next time you savor a sweet Rio Star grapefruit or a delicious TexaSweet orange, thank John Shary. He's the man who started it all.
Once a pharmacist from Omaha, Nebraska, Shary relocated to Corpus Christi, and first visited the Valley in 1912. Excited by the potential for growing citrus, he bought acreage near the town of Mission. Shary started with grapefruit, which was irrigated with water from the Rio Grande. In 1922, the first railroad car filled with fruit from his Sharyland orchards was shipped to market.
Scientists called the land along the Lower Rio Grande the most fertile in the world, next to land along the Nile in Africa. It comprised about one million acres of prime agricultural land. Shary organized the United Canal Company to provide irrigation. As more citrus trees were being planted, the cost of transporting the fruit by rail was increasing. Shary pushed for the extension of the Intracoastal Canal to the Valley. By the time the extension was completed, Texas citrus was being shipped around the world.
In 1917, the man known today as the Father of the Texas Citrus Industry built a mansion in Mission, Texas. It includes a two-lane bowling alley and a ballroom where the Shary's daughter, Marialice, married future Texas governor Allan Shivers. After their deaths, the Shary-Shivers Estate was given to the University of Texas Pan-American.
A tradition for over 75 years, Mission hosts the Texas Citrus Fiesta at the end of January. This popular event includes the coronation of Queen Citrianna and King Citrus, plus the colorful Parade of Oranges. So, let's all hail the King, Queen, and John Shary!
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Orange Coffee Cake
In a small bowl, combine orange juice, canola oil, and eggs. Blend well. Add to dry ingredients all at once and stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Spread batter evenly in greased skillet.
Squeeze 1/2 cup juice from one orange. Cut peel and white pith from other orange. Cut this orange in half from stem to blossom end, then cut each half crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. In a small bowl, mix orange juice, marmalade, cornstarch, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 cup water until blended.
Transfer chicken to warm platter. To the skillet, add the orange juice mixture and heat sauce to boiling over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute or until sauce thickens slightly. Stir in orange slices and heat through. Spoon sauce over chicken on platter. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Orange Custard Tart
The perfect dessert to impress guests.
Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 2 days. (If you chill the dough more than 4 hours, let it stand for 30 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.)
On a lightly floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 14-inch round. Carefully place dough in 11-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Fold overhang in and press dough against side of pan so it extends 1/4-inch above rim. Refrigerate or freeze until firm (10 to 15 minutes).
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line tart shell with foil, then fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Bake until golden (8 to 10 minutes longer). Cool in pan on wire rack. Reset oven temperature to 350°F.
Carefully pour filling into cooled tart shell. Place tart on foil-lined cookie sheet to catch any overflow during baking. Bake about 30 minutes (make sure you have reduced oven temperature to 350°F) or until filling is set but center still jiggles slightly. Cool completely on wire rack. To serve, remove side of pan. Arrange orange slices on tart. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Makes 10 servings.
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