Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Chocolate Milk Origins

September 3rd, 2008 · 3 Comments

It always amazes me that many who move to the overdeveloped edges of South Florida are surprised to learn how big this state is in agriculture. Tourism may be big on the coasts, but toward the center of the state, it’s all ag.

We rank high in almost all categories of foods that we produce: Winter vegetables, sugar, watermelons, grapefruit — we’re even among the top three in the country in indoor plants (if you’ve driven up by Crescent City you’ve seen the leatherleaf fern farms and greenhouses, now largely tended by the Viet immigrants that arrived here after the fall of Saigon).

1904 cattle drive in Kissimmee. (Photo from the Florida Photography Collection/Fla. State Archives)

And though it all depends on how the numbers are counted, and this can be juggled better than any politician’s campaign chest, Florida’s ranking with cattle is almost always in the top three.
We’re huge in feeder cattle — and in dairy cows, too.

Old dairies

Which brings me to Old Florida again — the old dairies that I knew as a child, now gone.

My family was very close to our landlords Armeta and Marvin Counce, in Hollywood, where we lived until I was three. They were part of a dairy-farmer’s family. We became quasi-kin, and until the elders were all gone and the rest of us dispersed around the state, we were part of their gatherings and vacations, and celebrations, and they, ours.

The families formed a big group on trips fishing and camping at Lake Okeechobee, Loxahatchee, down in Chokoloskee and Flamingo, up near Green Cove Springs, and at Ichetucknee Springs.

Cattle seek higher ground in a 1947 flood in Okeechobee. (Photo from Florida Photography Collection/Florida State Archives)

The Goolsbys were a pioneer Floridian family; I remember Aunt Armeta’s mother talking about the Hurricane of ’28 that caused the horrific Lake flood — killing 2500-plus. She and her husband, Jeff, were one of many dairy families in this area in the ’50s — Davis, Smith and MacArthur were other big ones.

When I got to spend the weekends with them, Uncle Marvin would take me to the Goolsby dairy at Okeechobee and Military Trail. There was nothing much beyond that area but cows, and the small town of Loxahatchee until the ’60s. (Okeechobee was a one-lane dirt road past Military.)

He would take me into the dairy barns and let me try to milk a cow and then, when that failed, would pull the cow teat and squirt me in the face with the milk. I recall all the skittery barn cats they had who lapped up the spilled stuff. 

Special cows

It was Uncle Marvin who convinced me that chocolate milk came exclusively from their “special” black cows. Thereafter, I loved the black cows best — though curiously, it was never the “right time to milk them” when I was there…

I was totally confused when later, I visited the MacArthur Dairy in West Palm Beach with my elementary schoolmates, and got a sample of chocolate milk — then proudly announced to the class that I knew where that chocolate milk came from. A dairyman set out to prove me wrong. But you couldn’t convince me: I was simply sure that it was Grandaddy Goolsby’s black cows and his alone that gave that chocolate milk.

Tags: Old Florida

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ben // Sep 3, 2008 at 9:21 am

    What a neat story — I think all of us from small Southern towns have somewhat similar versions.

    I had a friend growing up who put sugar in his chocolate milk! Although I like things sweet, this was over the top.

    Sometimes I think the years past that included fishing trips in the Everglades and tubing on the ice cold natural springs of North Florida were the best. No tv, no internet, just good clean fun surrounded by friends and family. How blessed we are to have had such fun.

  • 2 Jan Norris // Sep 3, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    My mom and dad gave my sister, Nancy Harrelson Weatherford, and I the best childhoods you can possibly imagine. We were very rich — in family. Not so much in money, though we never wanted for a thing.
    My cousins in Pensacola, Panama City, Pace, Atlanta and Jackson all agree we really had it just great.
    We could have been a family TV show if my dad had worn a suit and tie like Ward Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson! But he was a painting contractor, and wore ties pretty much only for “marryin’ and buryin’ ” — as my friend Ken Steinhoff says. (That’s as often as Steinie wears them, too — if then.)

  • 3 Merrie Lee Reese // May 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    In the 40’s and early 50’s there was Beebe’s Cattle Auction on Military trail just south of where Gun Club Road is now. My Grandmother was the cook for the “snack bar”. She would bring in several types of pies and sometimes a cake to sell along with the cold drinks and hot coffee. Instead of making hamburger patties, she would cook up a large pot of hamburger meat with chopped onion and some salt and pepper. It would simmer on the back burner, and when someone wanted a “burger”, they got a spoonful of the burger mix on a bun, and then they added their condiments.
    It was a treat for the cousins to take turns being her helper on a Saturday afternoon. Our “pay” was a burger and a Nehi and the chance to sit on the fence and watch the cows go through the dipping trough. Ah, the joys of growing up in suburban WPB.

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