The streets of almost every Greek town and city are lined with orange trees.
Visitors are amazed. Fruit trees in the streets?
Well, not exactly.
The short, bushy trees with the glossy leaves are actually bitter oranges. Their fruit has a strong, bitter taste that makes them all but inedible. Like their more palatable cousins, bitter oranges don’t shed their leaves. Their thick crown remains dark green all year round, laden with bright oranges in the winter and sweet-smelling blossoms in spring. Besides, the variety is somewhat hardier and more resistant to frost and blight than regular, cultivated orange trees. Their small size and hardiness make them ideal for planting in the narrow sidewalks of a temperate city such as Athens.
But are their fruit ever picked?
Well, yes, sometimes.
Greeks use the green, unripe fruit or the peel of the mature ones for making preserves, but, as far as I know, it takes boiling two or three times (and throwing away the water) to get rid of the excessive bitterness before adding tons of sugar to make them edible. It’s no wonder the custom is dying out.
Ripe or not, bitter oranges also have a long history of being used as projectiles by demostrators – be it against German occupation forces, junta policemen, or modern riot police. Lately, after the “crisis” began, city cleaning crews were observed to carefully remove all the fruit in the city centre, in an attempt to deprive potential protestors of any ammunition.
But by far more important than their fruit, is the thick, cool shade the trees provide during the hot months of summer.