The grapefruit is one of the great American success stories. First cultivated in Florida in 1823, the exotic island fruit was an unmitigated flop in the US, at least at the start. Locals did not care for its sour taste or the fact that it was not a hand fruit, like the more popular Florida orange.
When the first grapefruit crops were planted in Texas in 1893, few folks had much faith in the failed fruit. In fact, the only reason the grapefruit was planted in the first place was because the Lone Star State was in desperate need of new agricultural products. Like Florida had done with the orange, they wanted to find a new crop that would define them as a top agricultural state. With more arable acres than any other state, Texas was attracting its fair share of farmers. What they needed were new crops.
But just as it had in Florida, the grapefruit foundered in Texas. Out of sheer desperation, citrus farmers and orchard owners continued to experiment with the crop. The grapefruit remained a modestly successful crop until 1929. It took more than forty years of planting and experimenting before people actually wanted to eat grapefruit.
Like other fruits, the grapefruit changes over time. These changes are typically called mutations. Nine times out of ten these mutations are minor. The fruit might be a bit larger than its predecessor or perhaps a shade or two lighter. But every so often a mutation appears that is unique. Because they offer something that their forebears do not, farmers generally cultivate these fruits as new varieties. Oftentimes, they are given the honor of naming these new fruits.
It would not be exaggeration to say that the mutation that appeared on a tree in the Rio Grande Valley in 1929 was the single most important and popular mutation in the history of fruit. It is the mutation that made the US the world leader in grapefruit production. Why did people suddenly want to eat grapefruit after this discovery?
Because this new mutation, which would later be dubbed the Texas Ruby Red, was an answer to the most common complaint about the grapefruit, i.e., it was too sour. This new variety was not sour at all. Thanks to its higher sugar content, the Ruby Red was actually quite sweet, which encouraged people to eat grapefruit.
In less than a decade this popular mutation gave birth to a massive grapefruit industry in South Texas. People were so crazy about the Ruby Red that it also gave rise to the grapefruit industry in Florida, which is now the largest in the world. But as its official state fruit and the only variety of grapefruit that is grown there, the Ruby Red will also be linked to Texas.