Texas Citrus: Red Grapefruit
The grapefruit almost didn't make it in America. What is now one of our largest citrus crops was a bona fide flop when it arrived in Florida in 1823. The exotic island fruit is a hybrid fruit, a cross between an Indonesia pomelo and a Jamaican orange. Unfortunately it didn't taste like an orange, and that was the problem. Floridians had been eating sweet oranges for centuries by the time the grapefruit arrived on their shores and they simply did not enjoy its sour taste.
As the Florida orange industry continued to grow, the grapefruit became little more than a novelty fruit that farmers would sell or give away. Crates of grapefruit were rarely sent north to be sold in supermarkets or at fruit stands. There was simply no demand.
When the grapefruit arrived in Texas in the late 19th century, the state was struggling to make a name for itself in the young nation. They had plenty of cowboys and cattle, but fruit and vegetable farms were few and far between, which didn't make much sense. Regions of the enormous state have nearly perfect conditions for growing fresh fruit, especially citrus fruit.
Located in the southernmost tip of Texas, the Lower Rio Grande Valley was famous for its fertile soil and subtropical climate. But there were few fruit orchards in the area before the grapefruit arrived. The first crops were harvested there in 1893, and as farmers had anticipated, they grew well. But they still failed to win over the locals.
The tart, sour taste was simply too much for people who were not used to consuming citrus on a regular basis. Thankfully, farmers in the Rio Grande Valley weren't ready to throw in the towel just yet. They continued to plant grapefruit crops even though they were not big sellers.
The exotic fruit got a bit of a boost in 1906 when a new variety of pink grapefruit was discovered. It tasted exactly the same as the original white grapefruit, but it let farmers know that the fruit was prone to mutation. They would have to wait another twenty-three years for the next grapefruit variety to appear, but it was well worth it
This new mutation had red flesh that tasted sweet instead of sour and an invigorating scent. It was an instant hit with the local population and before very long every orchard owner in the Valley had a crop of red grapefruit growing alongside the pink and white varieties. Grapefruit now accounts for about 70 percent of the citrus crops that are grown in the Rio Grande Valley, and all of them are red. The popularity of the new variety resulted in an all-out ban on pink and white grapefruit in 1962.