Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Florida Oranges — Eat ‘Em Like a Native

March 10th, 2009 · 9 Comments

An email about a mere orange caused me to stop in my tracks. I had to put down my fried egg sandwich and espresso. It had been more than five years that I had such a strong flood of memories at the mention of a food.

The email had a video attached starring a new buddy of mine — and a Florida Cracker like me, Cliff Burg. Anybody who knows the Southeast area knows the names Burg and DiVosta – homebuilders with a solid reputation.

Burg, now semi-retired, dabbles in a few other things — a new polo field, a ranch in Jackson Hole, and his orange juice company here, Indian River Select. (It’s all my son drinks, so I knew of it before I heard about Burg’s involvement – and I can say with all honesty, it’s a terrific “boutique” fresh juice. I think with fresh OJ, you do get what you pay for.)

So this morning, my friend who works with Burg sent me a preview of an impromptu commercial they shot of him with something she called a “juiceball.” Had I heard of it?

I couldn’t fathom what she was talking about, but duly clicked on the link.

This is what I saw:

Is it a Florida trick?

I watched this unfold, and heard Cliff’s genial account of how he fixed these oranges for his kids. I teared up immediately and started leaking onto my keyboard — snatched instantly in my mind’s eye back to the front yard of our Wilton Manors home. There, in the front yard, I watched my dad among a gaggle of little kids, doing exactly the same thing with the same motions as Burg — down to wiping the blade of his knife on his pants.

I immediately messaged my friend, to let her know she had unleashed a film fest of old head-movies for me.

“I thought this was just Cliff being Cliff,” she said. “But this must be a Southern thing,” she said. (She’s from Michigan and is still learning a lot about Florida and its natives.)

I have no idea if that’s so, but I can’t remember eating an orange any other way when I was a tot.

Sharp knife needed

Truly, my earliest food memories are linked to being handed an orange just like this — by every adult I came in contact with in every grove and backyard around the state.

I can clearly see my dad’s pocketknife, pulled from his pants pocket – it didn’t matter which pants he had on, that slim, dangerously sharp Case knife with the brown handle was in them. He expertly twirled around the top of the orange, peeling it in one long spiral strand that we girls would hang behind our ears to make “Shirley Temple curls.”

Then he’d cut out the “plug” at the top – a tiny cone of orange pulp, which we’d be handed to eat. Once the orange was peeled down to its pith a third of the way or so down, we’d get the fruit. This was just as Burg says — to prevent the acid orange oil from burning our mouths.

It would take a few minutes for our small hands to squeeze as much juice as we could, but we weren’t done yet. We’d stick our grimy thumbs into the hole and tear the orange in half. We’d use two hands to turn the rind inside-out, and then use our teeth to pull the segments off to eat. Seed spitting contests and fights ensued.

Naturally, we’d be sticky messes from the orange juice — so this was always done outdoors and usually within reach of the garden hose. We could lick our lips for an hour, though, and still taste oranges.

Why the orange is on our car tags

Before Disney, practically every yard south of Gainesville had orange or grapefruit trees growing on or near them — seedy Parson Browns, Harts or Hamlins were the oranges; great big Duncans were the grapefruit. In the case of several of my relatives, their farms all had groves on the property.

Pat Pennington picks oranges. Photo courtesy the Florida Historic Photographic Collection

Pat Pennington picks oranges. Photo courtesy the Florida Historic Photographic Collection

On our frequent trips to Pensacola, we’d visit the Goolsby Dairy here in West Palm Beach, where there were oranges on trees out back. Grandaddy (Jeff) Goolsby would hand me an orange this way. We’d go to Lake Okeechobee to fish at the full moon of February, where oranges were hanging on trees all around the edges of US 441, and of course, lining US 27 — all the way from Okeechobee as far as you could see, to Ocala.

Uncle Bud

My dad’s favorite uncle lived in Auburndale, near Lake Wales, also on the way to Pensacola  We’d always stop and pick bushels from their backyard grove to take with us to the cousins in the Panhandle.

My Uncle Bud (John) Kilpatrick, would sit on his porch swing and at my Aunt Nina’s command, “Fix that youngun’ an orange,” he’d pick up one from a sackful. He was adept with his slender pocketknife with a marbelized green Bakelite handle, and still swinging, in under 45 seconds, was tossing the curly peel into the azalea bushes beside the porch.

He was a man of few words, but he smiled a lot. He’d peel it all without a word, hand me the orange, and point me to the porch steps to sit and eat – to avoid getting juice all over his swing. He was always conveniently watering the azaleas with a hose when I finished, and squirted off my hands and swathed down my face with his giant white handkerchief pulled from a back pocket.

Give it a try

Thinking back, it seems remarkable to me now that every adult I knew had a pocket knife on them to peel an orange – but this was so back then. Even my mother carried a little pearl-handled one for just such projects. They worked on pears, apples, and other fruits, but I just assumed everyone kept them on hand for the oranges.

Just as I assumed everyone had eaten oranges just this way. Those who haven’t have simply missed the tastiest way to eat one.

Now go find a pocketknife, a juice orange (thick-skinned California oranges are useless for this) and make some kid happy.

Tags: Florida! · Old Florida

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ksteinhoff // Mar 10, 2009 at 8:06 pm

    Nice ad. Shows that you don’t need dancing bears and all kinds of slick promotion to get your point across.

  • 2 chazpbg // Mar 10, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    What a beautiful piece of writing! Thanks for sharing.

    (Kinda reminds me of how Gholam once described eating a mango: “The only proper way to do it is hovered over the kitchen sink.”)

  • 3 GPrimm // Mar 11, 2009 at 11:40 am

    I’m a Florida native and have never heard of that method. But it looks cool and practical.

    We had an orange tree in our side yard. Don’t know the type, but they weren’t pretty like store oranges. BUT they had the sweetest juice you can imagine. We’d cut them in half and use an old hand-pump juicer to get every bit of juice out.

    Before the Interstate and Turnpike were built, we’d head up U.S. 27 through citrus country with the windows open, breathing deep and enjoying the sweet scent of blooming oranges. Beats any fancy perfume on the market.

  • 4 Jan Norris // Mar 12, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Florida tree oranges aren’t pretty — but they outdistance anything I’ve tasted from California by miles. I’ve always found it weird that we sell U.S. West Coast fruit here.
    I much prefer the little juice oranges, especially for my mom’s orange cake and other baking.

  • 5 pathom // Mar 13, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Jan, this is such a great memory and story! I really enjoyed reading it.

  • 6 Merrie Lee Reese // Sep 7, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Oh, yes! Juice down the chin, too. Thanks for the great Florida memory.

  • 7 Nina // Jul 11, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    mmmmm… sounds tasty 🙂

  • 8 Kristina Yang // Jun 9, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    This is a cute story. I am a native Floridian and never heard of anyone drinking or eating an orange that way. However, my ex-boyfriends family owned a grapefruit farm in Sebastian, which is also in Indian River County. Once when we stopped by he pulled a grapefruit off the tree and cut in the same manner(He too always had a pocket knife, I guess from growing up on the grove.)He told me it was something he learned from his father and the workers. It was something they always did if they were thirsty and wanted a real fresh drink to quench their thirst other than water. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. This is a good story memory that reminds of the good side of the ex-boyfriend, pretty funny.

  • 9 Jenny Elfving // Jan 29, 2014 at 10:42 am

    What a wonderfully written story. Resting in bed I have pursued several blogs today and although subject matter was interesting they all lost me because their language did not have depth or life. You however never disappoint! Can’t wait to hang out for lunch!

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