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The stars of the citrus family tree whose silhouette looms large in L.A.
Imagine, where the office buildings and converted lofts and freeway arches that constitute downtown now stand, there was once a giant grove of orange trees. Their blossoms threw out million-dollar scents, and their jade leaves framed the juiced-up fruit that cures scurvy and prevents colds and, if you believe the antioxidant hype, even cancer. They were the beginning of a Southern California citrus boom in 1840, when William Wolfskill established his massive commercial operation in the heart of Los Angeles, three decades and change after the state’s first orchard sprouted at the San Gabriel Mission about 1804. Those groves, and the hundreds that blanketed the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys and helped supply the world, have since been chopped up and the land sold for homes. Take consolation in the ones that remain: the Lloyd-Butler operation on the Oxnard plains, say, or the Leavens ranches in the Santa Clara River Valley. When photographer Dan Winters opened the boxes of tangerines, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and citrons pictured here, he was enveloped in the sights and scents of his own Ventura County childhood. Go to just about any farmers’ market and you, too, can experience the Dancy tangerine, with its watermelon-plum flavor, or the Minneola, tasting of vanilla and fig. You can trust, as professional growers have, in the Washington navel, the seedless orange whose forebears arrived from Brazil in the 1870s. Or embrace the flame grapefruit, a Texas discovery perfected in Florida. You can mimic the Spaniards and pour the blood orange into wine or make like Alice Waters and import the Meyer lemon to your kitchen. Bring home the fingered citron to perfume closets and drawers, much as it’s used throughout Asia, and know that the etrog is a staple of Jewish religious ceremonies, the thick, aromatic rind its claim to fame. You can celebrate, finally, that the citrus family flourishes year-round in L.A., in the sunlight of the ghost groves.