The Five Cs of Arizona: Citrus

This article is part of the five Cs of Arizona, which are climate, citrus, cattle, copper, and cotton.

It starts every year around spring: Inexplicably, in your workplace or while meeting with friends, a large bag of fruit will appear on the table before you. Everyone who has a tree that bears fruit will begin the fabled tradition of trying to get rid of their excess before it falls from the tree and begins to rot in their yards.

Arizona Citrus - Two Second Street -
Photo courtesy of VisitPheonix

Citrus is big business in Arizona. It’s one of only four states that produce citrus in the United States (the other three being my home state of Florida, California, and Texas). Citrus trees need warm weather: dropping below freezing can have devastating effects on citrus as I learned during cold snaps in Florida. Pro tip: Farmers will cover their fruit in water when it dips below freezing to coat it in ice. The ice works as insulation to keep the fruit from being exposed to even colder temperatures outside.

Citrus began its life with canal systems in Arizona: Both the Hohokam and Arizona Canals in the 1800s brought water to many drier regions, enabling them to begin cultivating the fruits. At its peak, Arizona had around 80,000 acres of groves across the state. Many of those groves disappeared after urbanization claimed a lot of their growing land. Cotton farms also popped up from the ashes of citrus groves. Now, there are only about 20,000 acres, but that’s still more than enough to make Arizona the second-largest lemon producer in the USA (second to California).

I’ve only eaten three of Arizona’s citrus crops: grapefruit, lemons, and oranges. I’ll get to the tangerines eventually! The grapefruits are usually clear to pinkish-clear on the inside, and they have a mild tart flavor compared to the iconic Ruby Reds of Texas or the pink grapefruits from other regions. They tend to have thicker skins as well. The oranges are a bit smaller than most, with a slightly sweet flavor. The lemons are pretty much like other lemons I’ve tasted. We’ve usually been using them to make lemonade since it’s very hot and we can’t think of too many things we’d have the patience for to make with them. We recently made a lavender lemonade, using fresh lavender we picked fresh from a farm out East. Very delicious!

It’s nice to be in a state where fresh fruit is readily available during the growing season. It’s always nice to eat fruit fresh from the source, be that peaches, citrus, or any other fruit fo your choice.


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