Reader Diana asks if the original rosace a l’orange recipe called for navel oranges and if so, if there’s a substitute. The answer is that it definitely didn’t. I’m not sure what variety of orange Lenôtre used in the original, since navel oranges are mostly an American thing, I’m almost certain he used some other variety.
Navel orange trees are a variety first discovered in Brazil in the 1870′s, descendants of sweet orange trees first brought by Portuguese explorers. The varietal generated a lot of excitement in those days because its fruit was hardy, sweet and seedless. The little “mini” orange tucked into the blossom end of the fruit was also an interesting novelty.
About a dozen navel orange trees were imported to America and planted in different orchards in the Southern US. Only two of them survived, the ones planted in Riverside, California by town founder Eliza Tibbets. Over the years cuttings taken from them (the fruits are seedless after all) were used to create an entire navel orange industry in the Southwestern United States. One of the two “parent trees” died in the 1920′s, but the other survives to this day at the center of an unremarkable intersection near a strip mall at the corner of Magnolia and Arlington avenues.