For some people the orange seems always the same, a golden ball of pleasure. From the time you first peel it and get that squirt of aromatic freshness to eating the slices or drinking its juice, it is tart and yet sweet. It reminds you of mornings, joy, and days filled with delight. In reality, though, not all oranges are the same, as the people of Cuzco remind us.
In Cuzco people say the best oranges are of a variety known as huando (pronounced one-doe.) It is sweet and seed-free. Though people like huando there are also other oranges available in the markets in Cuzco. In this is a lot of history.
The huando is not just found in Cuzco. Throughout Peru it is known as the orange that is the sweetest.
Peru´s leading newspaper, El Comercio, reports that the huando originated in the United States. It was a variety called the Washington navel that grew on the Huando estate, near the city of Huaral, in the region of Lima. Belonging to the Graña Elizalde family, in 1919 the hacienda saw the planting of the navel oranges that made it famous. For the first half of the century, the estate’s oranges were in great demand in Peru and exported even to the US.
However, with the agrarian reform, the estate’s land was distributed among its peons and they found it impossible to sustain the orange production because of cost. A virus later destroyed the production on the Huando estate.
The oranges however continue to be produced elsewhere, since the Washington navel was available to plant. They come now from Ica, Chincha, and the high areas of Huacho. But the orange is also found in Cuzco, where it comes from Cuzco’s lowlands, such as La Convención and the Valley of Lares, instead of from the coast.
I wondered if the huando in Cuzco was the same and, if it was, how it got to Cuzco’s lowlands.
Initially, despite asking questions of many people and searching online, I found no answer. However, last Satruday we all went to the “Cusco Feria 2012” held in the Beer Gardens of the Cervecería Cuscqueña. In the display area, among businesses displaing handicrafts, furniture, and bee honey, we ran onto a booth displaying citrus fruit. It was from the Fondo Verde Edén de Frutas, from the area of Yanatile and the Valley of Lares.
They had two kinds of oranges on display (although they said around twenty varieties of oranges are in cultivation) among a whole range of limes, limas, and mandarines They were the orange colored huando, and a bright red cara cara. I asked one of the ladies working the stand about the oranges.
She told me the cara cara orange had only recently been brought from Venezuela, She said the farmers of their organization were constantly looking to innovate with different kinds of citrus to keep a market advantage. They would bring a new variety in and before too many years passed, if they were successful, other producers would have them and be sending them to market as they lost their monopoly and competitive advantage.
She said the huando orange, in contrast to the cara cara, had been produced in Cuzco for some twenty years. I told her that I was curious how the huando orange got here. “Oh, we brought it to Cuzco” she exclaimed, surprising me.
If she is right, then the orange came to Cuzco shortly before the virus destroyed it in the former hacienda of Huando. Furthermore, while the agrarian reform may have contributed to its demise in its place of origin in Peru, in Cuzco it laid the foundation for its growth.
Following the break up of large estates in the Cuzco lowlands of La Convención and the nearby Valley of Lares, farmers sustained unions and then developed cooperatives and other productive enterprises that joined small scale producers together for marketing advantage.
The woman said that the huando is now cultivated beyond the two communities that have joined together in her organization, though the demand is strong enough that they still produce it.
A visit to any market in Cuzco will show a variety of oranges available. There are valencia as well as navel and the huandois the queen of the oranges.
I am told that when the producers ship their oranges to Cuzco they first arrive at a market near the fair grounds of Huancaro, though not the huancaro market per se. There housewives as well as wholesalers can walk among the mounds of fruit to choose the freashest and most tasty for household use.
But you, if you want to taste this orange with a story, can easily find huando just by asking in the city of Cuzco. The orange is very different in taste from north american oranges because it is just so sweet. You should try it