Why The Maltese Orange Was A Luxury Item In The Age Of Enlightenment

19th November 2018

In 1780, the king of France's sisters invested in an orange garden in Malta to ensure their annual supply.

The Maltese blood orange earned a reputation of excellence at a time when the fruit was considered as a luxury in Europe, and its trade in the Mediterranean was rather restricted. Celebrated for its eating quality and fragrance, the sense of anticipation for the Maltese orange among the royal courts and the aristocracy of Europe is well documented.

Inquisitor Fabio Chigi loved the smell and taste of the Maltese oranges so much that he included orange trees in the newly refurbished garden of the Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu. In 1635, he mentions the regular use of oranges in his report to the Holy Office in Rome about his Lenten consumption patterns. His writings reveal that he enjoyed his cold orange squash with some sugar to refresh himself during the hot summer months.

The remarkable quality of the fruit also caught the attention of several travellers. Reminiscing about his experiences in 1770 Malta, Scottish author Patrick Brydone was quite eloquent about Maltese oranges, defining the blood orange as the best in the world.

The enticing pleasure of expectation among the royal courts of Europe, particularly in Paris, is well noted. In 1780, the sisters to the king of France invested in an orange garden in Malta to ensure their annual supply. Similarly, tradesmen competed for the individually paper-wrapped oranges to be diligently packed into boxes intended to reach a sophisticated market in Europe.

The exclusive nature of the Maltese orange was also celebrated in its print form. Renowned period cookbooks started to specifically refer to the Maltese orange. Eventually, the French Sauce Maltaise became a speciality on the tables of Europe’s leading aristocracy. Preserved and processed in different shapes and forms, from rose water to marmalade, the orange or any of its by-products, would continue to enjoy special attention as science emphasized its nutritional value.

On Thursday 22nd November, Heritage Malta is inviting the public to indulge in the exploration of these exquisite narratives, and to discover how an orange conserve was prepared in 1748.

Historian Dr Noel Buttigieg will help participants to explore the subject, while chef Josef Baldacchino will be conducting a historic cookalong session of ‘composta di bergamotte’ - an orange conserve from 1748.

This is an exclusive sensory experience for a limited number of participants. Proceeds from this event will help Heritage Malta to restore the Inquisitor’s kitchen back to its busy days. Those who attend will be entitled to one complimentary copy of Ta’ Bistra Catacombs project book.

The event is being held at the Inquisitor’s Palace in Birgu at 7.30pm. Tickets: €12 per person (€10 for Heritage Malta members), are available from all Heritage Malta museums and sites or online at https://shop.heritagemalta.org/index.asp?eventid=488 

For more information, call 2166 3731 or access Heritage Malta website at www.heritagemalta.org 


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