Selecting and Preparing Citrus Fruit for Exhibit

Julian W. Sauls, Ph. D.

Texas Cooperative Extension

One of the primary purposes of the Texas Citrus Fiesta Youth Show is to learn to select premium quality citrus fruits. Many exhibits, however, are somewhat lacking in quality. This is written, therefore, to expand on the basic requirements of the Show as stated in Rules 3, 5 and 10 of the General Rules and Regulations and to provide suggestions that should help you to enter exhibits of better quality.

It is understood that most exhibitors obtain fruit by permission from grower's orchards, so you cannot expect to collect a large number of fruit of a particular variety in order to give you a lot of options in selecting the best. Where possible, however, you should ask permission to collect at least half a dozen good-looking fruit of very nearly the same size, shape and appearance. Before you head to the orchard, read on.

Fruit Size

For grapefruit and oranges, any of the commercial sizes of fruit are acceptable. Naturally, everyone wants the biggest, but that may not be the best choice. The very large fruit are often a little coarser and may not have the best shape. On the other hand, medium-sized fruit are usually more uniform in shape and have smoother, thinner peel texture, so they may be easier to develop into a top-notch exhibit. The judges do not automatically select the larger fruit-they are looking for the prettiest, most uniform exhibit that is available, so long as fruit size is commercially acceptable. That being said, if two exhibits are of equal quality, but one has small fruit and one has much larger fruit, I expect that most judges would opt for the larger fruit.

To achieve uniformity of size in the field without cutting a large number of fruit, make a set of sizer rings from stiff cardboard or thin wood, using compasses to draw the circles to be cut out and discarded. For grapefruit, the difference in diameter of the two circles or "rings" should be no more than one-quarter of an inch. For oranges, the difference should be no more than one-eighth of an inch. In the field, you should examine the fruit for appearance, then check it with the rings-collect only those fruit which will go through the large "ring" but not the small one.

Rule 3-Buttons

The button must be intact and closely clipped-that means to cut the stem off as short as you can without damaging the fruit or dislodging the button. Long or protruding stems are unacceptable because they can puncture or otherwise damage other fruit in your exhibit. Use two-bladed pruning shears, poultry shears, or even wire cutters rather than a knife, as the latter often results in the loss of the button.

Rule 10.1-Variety

The entry must be correctly labeled as to variety. Occasionally, an entry has the wrong variety name. Traditionally, the judges have relabeled the entry and judged it with its counterparts. The problem is, however, that Rule 1 states that an exhibitor is allowed only one entry per variety-and the judges have no way of knowing if such relabeling creates a second entry in that variety. Probably the best recourse for the judges is to disallow any variety which is not correctly labeled, even though it is realized that the exhibitor relies on the grower for identification of the orchard or tree. Still, it is the exhibitor's responsibility to assure the correct identification-so exhibitors obtaining fruit from trees or orchards that they do not personally know should compare such fruit with the images of the listed varieties elsewhere in this website.

Rule 10.2-True-to-type

Specimens should be true-to-type and represent the variety in all characters. While this rule should be self-explanatory, there is one clarification that should be made. By definition, a navel orange has an obvious navel at the blossom end, so an entry of navel oranges should exhibit obvious navels-otherwise the entry does not represent the variety in all characters. Yes, you can find navels that don't have an obvious navel-but those are the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, this puts 'Everhard' navels at a distinct disadvantage, inasmuch as 'Everhard' rarely exhibits a navel (perhaps there should be a separate class for 'Everhard").

Rule 10.3-Clean and blemish-free

Blemishes are anything that cannot be removed from the rind by wiping, washing, brushing or other means-because a blemish is permanent damage to the rind such as scarring caused by mites, insects, wind or other factors. The amount of scarring varies from year to year, so you just have to choose the best fruit you can. For example, the 2000-01 season had more rind scarring than the year before, and you can probably see some minor scarring on the entries for the 2001 Show. Look closely at the images for the 10 commercial varieties from that Show-these were the first place entries in 2001.

Clean means completely clean-no dirt, no dust, no chemical residue, and no insects-including under the button. While scale insects sometimes are buried in the pores of the rind, they can be removed without damaging the fruit. One of the best ways I have found to clean citrus fruit is to use a dry bath cloth to rub and polish the fruit-the terry cloth both cleans and shines the fruit. An old, soft-bristled toothbrush can be used to gently clean around the button. Any embedded scale insects can then be gently removed with a toothpick. Sooty mold can be easily removed with mild, soapy water-either with a cloth or the soft-bristled toothbrush. Just don't overdo the washing, as too much will remove the natural wax from the rind and the fruit will not shine-and Rule 4 prohibits the use of wax on the fruit.

Rule 10.4-Uniformity

When the judges narrow their choices down to just a few entries, uniformity then becomes the deciding factor in final placings-uniformity of size, uniformity of shape, uniformity of color and uniformity of overall appearance. It really doesn't matter how clean and pretty the individual fruit are-all three fruit must be very close to the same size, shape, color and appearance. For example, sometimes there will be two round oranges of the same size, but the third orange in the entry is more oblong than round. Or two grapefruit are oblate (flat), but the third is round or even slightly sheepnosed. Maybe two grapefruit have a nice red blush, but the third one has no blush at all or is intensely blushed to the point of almost being red.

Obviously, following these guidelines is no assurance that a particular entry will even place, let alone win the category. However, the competition will be more intense and the work of the judges will be more difficult. Of even more importance, the exhibitor will learn more about the quality of good citrus fruit. And don't forget-the exhibits are open to the public-and they will also learn more about the quality of our Texas citrus fruits.

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This page written and maintained by Julian W. Sauls, Ph. D