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The fruit of a tree of the genus Citrus (C. aurantium). It is usually round, and consists of a number of pulpy carpels, enclosed in a leathery rind, which is easily separable, and is yellow when ripe. There are many varieties, as the red or Maltese orange, having a pulp stained with crimson, and formerly much valued, as it was supposed to be produced by a graft set in the pomegranate; the mandarin orange, in which the pulp is so entirely free from the rind, as to be easily shaken loose in the ripe fruit; and others. — Webster, 1882

After the singing, Mr. Tower and Mr. Beadle began taking the things off the tree. They read the names on the slips of paper tied to them and Mrs. Tower and Miss Beadle carried them to the persons whose names were read. There was a little bag of candy, a bag of popcorn and an orange for each girl and boy. – manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek, pages 103-104

Oranges are citrus fruits (belonging to the genus Citrus), and the tree most cultivated in the world. In the Little House books, oranges are special treats; in the northern climate of the books, the trees couldn’t be grown, making the fruit something that had to be shipped in seasonally, from the faraway south. At an early day Christmas celebration at the Methodist Episcopal church in De Smet, there was a chimney constructed of boxes of fruits and nuts, and “Old Santa Claus” came and distributed the supply of apples and oranges to everyone and all were made happy. At one of the early Old Settler’s Day gatherings in De Smet, an “egg fight” was held between two opposing teams of young boys — the eggs were hen’s eggs that had been blown and filled with water, then the holes were sealed with wax — and the winning team was awarded a half box of oranges.

In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls attends Ben Woodworth‘s birthday party, and each guest is served an orange to eat along with their slice of cake. Laura comments that “she had once eaten part of an orange, so she knew how good an orange tastes.” (See Chapter 20, “The Birthday Party.”)

The trouble is, there had been no previous mention of oranges at all in any Little House book, except for in Farmer Boy, which isn’t about Laura, so where had she once tasted one?

The answer lies in the manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek. Edited out of the church Christmas tree chapter was the fact that “there was a little bag of candy, a bag of popcorn and an orange for each girl and boy.” So now you know where that came from!

The oranges served at Ben Woodworth’s party were cut so that the peeling was folded back to look like a flower. In the handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote this about those oranges: There were plenty of seeds in oranges those days and the membrane between the section was tough so they separated easily without spilling a drop of juice.

It’s easy to cut an orange into a flower! Locate the stem end of the orange and pop off the little brown thing where it was attached to the stem; would someone please tell me the botanical name for that? Look down at the top of the orange and imagine that the top half of the orange is a flat circle and you’re going to cut it into eight slices like a pizza. Using small, sharp scissors, pierce the rind at the top and cut eight wedges just through the rind (not into the flesh of the orange itself) down to the equator of the orange. Use the back of a spoon or sharp knife, if necessary, to separate the flesh from the rind points. Then use your fingers and roll the points in towards the flesh, tucking each point into the equator so it stays put.

It just took me longer to type that than it would take to cut and fashion one orange into a flower; just look at the picture… I know it says that Laura ate an orange flower, but it’s a lot easier to do this with an easy-to-peel clementine or mandarin orange.

Other mentions of oranges in the Little House books – other than to describe the color of something – have to do with Almanzo Wilder. He brings a bag of oranges to the Christmas eve celebration in These Happy Golden Years (see Chapter 25, “The Night Before Christmas”); that’s my bag of oranges Christmas ornament at right; the oranges are little plastic ones about a half-inch in diameter. A pile of Florida oranges is also seen at the County Fair in Farmer Boy.


orange / oranges (FB 21, 26; LTP 20; THGY 25; PG)
     orange / orange-colored (BW 1, 2, 12; LHP 22)
     made into flower (LTP 20; PG)
     Florida oranges (FB 21)