For the past few months I have been slowly rediscovering the joys and benefits of grapefruit, a citric that has always been on the fringes of my life but never an essential part of it. On visits to England and Scotland in the distant past, I have stayed with family and friends who had half a grapefruit for breakfast. I thought eating grapefruit segments with a teaspoon was a refreshing start to the day.
But I seldom got into the grapefruit habit when back in Palma and I never fancied a glass of freshly pressed orange juice, even when someone pressed it for me. Fresh fruit juices are a great drink and I am very fond of them, but not for breakfast: they’re my preference at all other times of the day especially as a mid-morning refresher or an afternoon slosh when poured into a large glass full of ice cubes. But at breakfast time in Palma, I prefer to go straight into a plate of creamy scrambled eggs and hot buttered toast with a couple of cafes con leche.
Grapefruit kind of completely dropped out of my life when I read somewhere (a serious newspaper or magazine) that it should be avoided if we are taking medication to keep blood pressure under control. A few months before the coronavirus pandemic got underway I was becoming aware of the grapefruit on sale at El Corte Inglés in Jaime III and I began to get a yen for tasting one.
As I have my blood pressure nicely under control (the diastolic numbers are usually less than 7, when they should never be more than 8.9) I didn’t want to do anything to upset them, so I just kept looking at the grapefruit but never buying any.
Just a few days before the coronavirus confinement started in Spain and all over Europe, I asked my new cardiologist (the other one had retired) about the effect of grapefruit juice on blood pressure. He said he had never heard anything along those lines and added: “But it doesn’t matter, none of us eats grapefruit, anyway.”
Well, I was interested in tasting them again, but throughout confinement I resisted the temptation to try one. But as my blood pressure figures are so good, about three months ago I bought some grapefruit at El Corte Inglés in Jaime III…and I adored them. I buy only small ones, which means the size of a large orange, and I peel and eat them as if they were oranges — but never for breakfast. These grapefruit are pink 99 per cent of the time.
A favourite time for having a grapefruit is at three in the morning — and afterwards I brush my teeth with water to get rid of citric juices before going back to bed and (hopefully) to sleep. The fruit we know today as the grapefruit didn’t come on the scene until relatively recently — towards the end of the 19th century.
Its ancestor was a 17th century fruit known as the pomelo, which is today’s Spanish word for grapefruit. It was bigger than today’s grapefruit, with a thicker skin and it was also much more acidic.The Dutch and the French (and even the British) also called a pomelo a pamplemousse, the word the French still use.
The nomenclature surrounding the grapefruit can get really puzzling when you learn that at the time it was known as a pomelo, it was also called the shaddock. It was given this name after an Englishman, Capt Shaddock, took the seeds from the East Indies to Barbados in 1696. Further confusion arises because in some parts of the United States a grapefruit is still called a shaddock.
Grapefruit — what we now call a grapefruit — was recognised as a species in 1830. It was thought to be a hybrid between a pomelo and an orange, although some botanists said it was a natural mutation of the pomelo. But it was another 50 years before the fruit was being cultivated and sold to the public. As a commercially grown fruit it was first seen in Florida in the early 1880s.
By 1885 it had reached London, but the English had to be told the grapefruit had no connection whatever with grapes. The word was coined in Jamaica because the fruit hangs in clusters, like grapes. Florida is still very much in the forefront of grapefruit production but cultivation has spread far and wide and it is now grown in many countries with warm climates, such as Spain and Israel. The grapefruit we buy in Mallorca usually come from Puebla Larga, Gandía or Alcira in Valencia, and Cabanes in Castellón.
It was the United States that launched grapefruit on an international scale, partly because their crops were too large for domestic consumption alone and they needed to find new markets. Spain was importing American grapefruit long before enterprising farmers in Valencia and Castellón started to grow their own.
It was the Americans who popularised the grapefruit (or half of one) as a breakfast dish. They were copying the people in some parts of China who frequently ate wedges of grapefruit at the start of a meal. At one time grapefruit juice was also popular in America as a mealtime drink. But that idea never took off in Europe because most countries had a wine or beer drinking tradition at table.
If we are having grapefruit for breakfast, it is simply cut in two through the meridian and the flesh is loosened with a small saw-edged knife with a curved tip. Use this knife to separate the segments and eat them with a small spoon. But if we want the segments for a dessert or some other dish, then the grapefruit must be peeled.
Using a sharp stainless steel knife, slice off one end of the fruit, placing the cut end on a wooden board. Starting at the top and following the curve of the fruit downwards, slice away the outer peel and the inner white pith. Finally, scrape off any excess pith. Take the grapefruit in one hand, over a bowl, and slice down the right side of each dividing membrane and push out the segment. When all the segments have been extracted, squeeze the remaining membrane over the bowl, as it sometimes contains a fair amount of juice. This operation is easier if you peel the grapefruit but leave any inner skin intact.
Put the peeled grapefruit in the fridge for a couple of days, after which the inner skin dries out and becomes stiff. The flesh becomes firm and is relatively easy to separate from the inner skin. Because the grapefruit came so late to Europe — and later still to Spain — cooks haven’t had enough time to get creative with it, although many add the juice to dishes in which they would normally use orange, lemon or other citric juice.
You’ll find some delicious desserts, including this one with honey and rum. Combine the segments of four grapefruit with 6 tbsps rum, 2 tbsps Curaçao and 4 tbsps honey, or more, depending on the acidity of the grapefruit. Chill well before serving.
Another handy dessert is made with honey and cream. Whisk 4 tbsps of honey with 8 tbsps of thick cream until very smooth. Chill well and pour over the segments of four grapefruit just before serving. One whole grapefruit per day gives us as much vitamin C as we need. Grapefruit also contains significant amounts of vegetable fibre, vitamins A and the B range, as well as potassium and magnesium.
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