‘the land of fruits and nuts’: meanings and origin

The phrase the land of fruits and nuts is a humorous, sometimes derogatory, appellation for the U.S. state of California.

This phrase refers to:
– California’s agricultural bounties;
– Californians regarded as being ‘nuts’, i.e., crazy.—Cf., below, the emphasis on the word nuts in each of the quotations from As It Appears to The Cavalier, by the Virginian poet, lawyer, politician and columnist Thomas Lomax Hunter (1875-1948).

For example, “this Sunshine land of fruits, nuts and flowers” evoked California’s agricultural bounties in the following advertisement for H. Jevne Co., published in The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of Thursday 6th December 1917:

Here Are Gifts that every Californian is sending East
Make this a truly memorable Christmas for your folks back East.
The secret of selecting the one gift that will be most enjoyed and appreciated lies in anticipating the wishes and needs of one’s friends.
A Jevne’s Gift is always sure of a hearty welcome, coming as it does direct from this Sunshine land of fruits, nuts and flowers.
We have twenty-nine different assortments, all on display at our store. All shipping detail attended to and prepaid.
Jevne’s Gift No. 1—$2.90.
The choicest, most delectable California Figs, Raisins, Walnuts, Almonds and Granadafig—packed in a handsome, gold-embossed traveling box.
[&c.]

The earliest occurrences of the phrase the land of fruits and nuts that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up As It Appears to The Cavalier, by Thomas Lomax Hunter, published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia) of Saturday 14th May 1932—the word nuts was printed in italics:

McAdoo 1, who sulked in his tent in 1928, has suddenly come back from the bourne of political shadows and in California, the land of fruits and nuts, has trumped up quite a big showing for the Lone Star State’s favorite son.

1 William Gibbs McAdoo (1863-1941) was elected as Senator for California in 1932.

2-: From Studio in Fog Caused by Esperanto, by Lloyd Pantages (1907-1987), published in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) of Tuesday 6th February 1934:

TODAY’S BIG BROADCAST FROM THE LAND OF FRUITS AND NUTS—GEORGE O’BRIEN 2 is THAT conceited about his physique. He has a duplicate set of clothes made for each picture. ONE very tight (and I mean shirts, trousers, underwear and whatnot) for the CLOSE UPS, and the other LOOSER and more comfortable for the LONG-SHOTS where our Georgie has to jump on and off of HORSIES!

2 George O’Brien (1899-1985) was a U.S. film actor.

3-: From ‘I Cover Hollywood’, by Lloyd Pantages, published in the San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) of Tuesday 12th June 1934:

Methinking that FRED KEATING 3, currently out here to do “The Captain Hates the Sea,” will be about as popular with the local Chamber of Commerce as a Florida land-boom. Among his various idiocyncrasies he does not like motion pictures, the devoone GARBO 4, sunshine, mocking birds, avocados, real estate men, nor any of the countless other little blessings that make this the perpetual land of fruits and nuts. Aside from the above mentioned he claims he’s really for CAL-I-FOR-NI-A one hundred per cent and has installed a dog biscuit in every room of his new Joe tremendous mansion so if his puppy, “Snoopy,” gets lost it won’t starve. My, my.

3 Frederic Serrano Keating (1901-1961) was a U.S. magician, and stage and film actor.
4 Greta Garbo (born Greta Gustafsson – 1905-1990) was a Swedish-born U.S. film actress.

4-: From one of the unconnected paragraphs making up As It Appears to The Cavalier, by Thomas Lomax Hunter, published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia) of Friday 4th January 1935—the word nuts was printed in brackets:

I still believe that, were football played today on the ground, as it was when I was at college, and not in the air, Stanford 5 might have won, probably would have won. As it was, they started off with a rush and pushed over a touchdown before Alabama had the ball, but when the Southerners did have their inning, they opened up a bag of tricks that positively dazed the football heroes of that much-vaunted land of famous fruits and “nuts.”

5 This refers to Stanford University, in California.

A variant of the phrase, the land of nuts and fruits, occurs, for example, in the following letter, published in the Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock, Arkansas) of Wednesday 3rd February 1960—Orval Faubus (1910-1994), Governor of Arkansas from 1955 to 1967, had been nominated as candidate for President of the USA by the National States’ Rights Party (NSRP):

To the Editor of the Gazette:
As our ’umble Orval prepares for his pilgrimage to Los Angeles, where, with due humility and modesty, he has agreed to address the Faubus-for-President Committee, we should appreciate that Southern California provides which is perhaps the only really appropriate backdrop and stage setting for his incredible political antics.
There, in the never-never land of nuts and fruits, ham ’n’ eggs, thirty dollars every Thursday, technocracy, Townsendites 6, countless cults, and marching and chowder societies (let us not forget the drive-in mortuaries) it may be that our Orv will find his true niche.

6 This may refer to the Townsendite movement, founded by the U.S. physician Francis Everitt Townsend (1867-1960), who, in 1933, proposed the Old-Age Revolving Pension Plan, precursor of the Social Security Act of 1935.

In the following letter, published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii) of Friday 1st January 1943, the land of fruits and nuts is applied to Oahu, the third-largest Hawaiian island:

HE DOESN’T THINK MUCH OK HAWAII

Editor The Star-Bulletin: I have been a constant reader of your letter column for a long while. After serving on these beautiful islands for three years in the army I would like to give my opinion of this “Beautiful Island Paradise,” as the advertising department puts it. (I don’t see how they avoid libel suits; maybe they have a few but are kept from the papers for obvious reasons.) To get back to my opinion, (the “Three Minnesotans” may use this for defense if they like), I am located just a three minute walk from world famous Waikiki beach. (I think it’s famous for its beautiful coral that’s so pleasant to walk on.) The most discussed topic (wahines) is one which, unfortunately, I can’t give my opinion on, due to prejudice, since I’m from South Carolina, where 50 per cent of the population are wahines, so I’ll have to skip that. As for the rest of the island I’m sure it could look very beautiful from a boat rail sailing out to sea headed anywhere. The name “Illusion Isle” may be all right for “The Minnesotans,” that shows they haven’t been around much; if they had they would call it by its real name, “The Land of Fruits and Nuts,” which I think fits Oahu better than anything else.
“PRE-WAR DOG FACE.”