Do you ever stop to wonder at the contradictions in nature? For example, why do orange blossoms smell so sweet when the fruit they produce tastes tart?
Citrus is big business in central Florida, so a visit to the groves was a component of our tour. We were shown how oranges are washed, dried, polished and waxed before being packed for shipment. I was surprised to learn 95 per cent of Florida’s harvested oranges are earmarked for juice. However, enterprising Floridians figured out a use for all that leftover pulp and peel–it goes into cattle feed. I guess Florida cows don’t suffer too much from colds and flu.
One of the many interesting stops we made was to the Citrus Research and Education Center of the University of Florida. It’s been around for about 90 years, with a citrus library that’s open to the public. In addition to an overview of projects being carried out by graduate students and other young scientists, Wendy Meyer (with magnifying glass, right), an entomologist and research biologist, told us about some of the pests that are plaguing crops. One of the most serious of these is the Asian citrus psyllid (Diaphorina citri), an aphid-like insect that is a vector for the Liberobacter asiaticum bacterium, which causes deadly greening disease that can kill a tree in just five years.
Since its initial discovery in Florida in 1998, the Asian citrus psyllid has spread throughout the state. Dr. Meyer reviewed various methods that are being used to monitor this pest, including putting out pheromone-laced yellow panel traps. Controls being tried include interplanting citrus with guava, which seems to act as a natural repellent. At present, there is no cure for this devastating disease. Greening could spell big trouble for the industry in the years ahead.
Next, we headed off for lunch to Lang Sun Country Groves in Lake Alfred, a family-run business since 1951. The massive Florida flame vine (Pyrostegia venusta) in front of the building dates from that time. Not only does Lang’s grow, pack, ship and sell oranges, grapefruits and other citrus varieties, but they also have the Taste of Florida Cafe, where they serve freshly squeezed juice, homemade soups, salads, sandwiches and especially, desserts. I sampled the signature grapefruit pie shown here (you can find the recipe on their website, below).
After lunch, we toured the packing facility out back, where fruit is sorted by size and packed by hand. It seemed a surprisingly small, low-tech operation for a company that ships citrus fruit far and wide. Lynn Miller, a second-generation member of the Lang family, proudly showed us a box of honeybell tangelos, a runaway Florida marketing success story. When I told him their shaped reminded me of the mineolas I bought at home, he grinned. It seems they are indeed the very same. The difference is they couldn’t give away mineolas in the U.S. until an enterprising grower changed their name to honeybells to reflect their bell-like form.
Next: Good eats and cheap retreats