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Texas Grapefruit: Citrus From The Valley

Texas Grapefruit
by John Raven, Ph.B.

All through the hot Texas summer, the human inhabitants of the state seek a cool spot and complain about the heat. While the complaining is going on, down in the very bottom tip of Texas, millions of grapefruit and orange trees raise their branches to the sky soaking up the sun. In October, all the sunbeams they have gathered will be concentrated in their round and colorful fruit.

"The Valley," as it is known in Texas -- properly the Rio Grande Valley -- is a semitropical region perfect for raising all manner of crops. It's warm the year round, and the Rio Grande provides water through a huge system of irrigation canals.

Citrus farming has been going on in The Valley for a long time. The first orange trees were probably planted by Spanish explorers as early as the 1500's. The orange is native to the Orient. Old Chris Columbus had some seeds with him on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. He planted some of the seeds in Hispaniola. As Hispaniola was one of the regular boat stops on the route from Spain to the New World, it was easy to pick up a more seeds and take them along. It took until about the 1880's when farmers in The Valley started raising oranges in a big way.

Is there a soul in the civilized world who has not tasted the lovely orange? I think not. Half or more of the civilized world starts its day with a cold glass of orange juice. Alas, most of that juice comes from a frozen can and not a fresh fruit. The frozen juice we all know is concentrated. That is, about three-fourths of the water is removed from it before freezing. This makes for a product that takes up less space and weighs less -- all big considerations when shipping it around the world.

In my opinion, the process of squeezing the oranges to get the juice for concentrate imparts some of the bitter taste of the peel. Careful hand squeezing of the fruit avoids that bitter taste.

You can buy canned or bottled orange juice. Be sure to read the label to see if you are getting fresh-squeezed or from-concentrate.

Eating a fresh, cool orange is a delight. You can just eat it plain or involve it in a fruit salad. Navel oranges peel the easiest and they don't have seeds.

Selecting a fresh orange is easy. Just look for one that is firm and seems heavy for its size. That means it's full of juice. You can't go by the color. Most oranges come off the tree about the same color as grapefruit. The producers put some orange coloring on them to get a uniform color. Those straight-from-the-tree oranges might not win any beauty contests, but as long as there are no obvious soft spots or cuts, they are just fine.

The grapefruit seems to have originated in Barbados. Again we can thank the Spanish for introducing the crop to Texas via their missionaries in the 1800's. The first grapefruit farm of note was established in The Valley in 1893. It was 1920 before the grapefruit was shipped out of The Valley in quantity.

The early grapefruit varieties came in two colors, white and pink. Once in a while the grower would find a fruit that was a little pinker than its brothers and sisters. By process of selection, an even pinker or red grapefruit was developed. The Ruby Red grapefruit is, I think, the official fruit of Texas.

A half grapefruit is one of the classic breakfast items. Grapefruit seems a little tart for most folks, so some sugar is added in most cases. The fancy half grapefruit is given a topping of light brown sugar and broiled until the sugar melts. Don't forget the cherry in the middle for decoration.

When the grapefruit craving comes over me, I really enjoy just peeling and eating a grapefruit like a big orange.

My opinions about frozen concentrate versus fresh-squeezed apply to grapefruit juice, as well as orange juice. But you take your pick.

Here are a couple of recipes from the Texas Sweet Citrus Growers Association. Bet you never heard of this first one.

Ruby Red Grapefruit Pie

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3-ounce package strawberry Jell-O
  • 3 Texas Red Grapefruit, sectioned and strained
  • 9-inch baked piecrust
  • whipped cream topping*
Cook sugar, water, cornstarch, and salt until thick and clear. Add box of Jell-O, and stir until dissolved. Chill until mixture begins to set. Add grapefruit sections and pour into baked pie shell. Chill for several hours or overnight. Top with whipped cream and serve.
*Use real whipped cream; that canned stuff is mostly air.

Iced Grapefruit Sherbet

  • 4 Texas Red Grapefruit
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • mint leaves or cherries for garnish
Halve and juice the grapefruit. Measure 3 cups juice and pulp, and set aside. Pull out and discard membrane from shells. Freeze shells.

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cook to soft ball stage (238 degrees on candy thermometer). Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and salt until stiff. Slowly pour hot syrup into beaten whites, continuing to beat at high speed until stiff and glossy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the grapefruit juice.

Pour into shallow pan or ice trays. Freeze until almost firm. Return to mixing bowl. Beat again until blended. Spoon into reserved grapefruit shells, dividing evenly. Freeze until firm. To serve, remove from freezer 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with mint leaves or cherry. [Raven's note: This will work with oranges, too. Makes a nice orange sherbet.]

More Texas Grapefruit

Texas Citrus Salsa

  • 1 Texas Red Grapefruit, peeled, sectioned and chopped
  • 1 large Texas Orange, peeled, sectioned and chopped
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 cup diced green, red, and yellow bell pepper (use a mixture of all three peppers for best color contrast)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped red onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix grapefruit, orange, peppers, onion, cilantro and seasonings. Seed and chop the tomato. Combine all the salsa ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Drain juice before serving. Makes about 2 cups. Excellent when served on top of grilled fish or chicken!

I can't leave you without my favorite citrus drink.

Padre Island Cooler

Fill a one-gallon Igloo or similar cooler with hard, cracked ice. Add the contents of one bottle of good gold Tequila. Fill the container to the brim with orange juice.

Go to the beach. The motion of the car will have the mixture chillingly cold when you arrive. Dispense as needed.

Works equally well on North or South Padre Island.

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