Friday, December 26, 2008

Citra Florida

It has always struck me as very old fashioned to stop at a Florida roadside stand and buy citrus fruit. Why bother to haul Florida grapefruit 1500 miles in the trunk of the car these days? This, when fruit from all round the world is shipped to us in such a continuous stream that we don't even know anymore when the season is for the food we eat. Grapes from Chile, tomatoes from Mexico, asparagus from California...and citrus from Citra, Florida.We left Ocala after breakfast and took off for Jacksonville seventy miles down Highway 301 across the top of the state which is all citrus groves, as it turns out, or at least a lot of it is. Interspersed with pine forests and horse ranches and...roadside stands. We were cruising the four lane when my wife said out of nowhere. "I think I'd like a fresh squeezed orange juice.""We should stop," I said. "No," she said. "We'll stop at the next one we see." But I knew better so we pulled a (legal) U-turn and headed in. In to the stupid old fashioned citrus stand that has been superseded by international shipments of fruit.It was a blast actually. We bought two bags of grapefruit for five bucks and for another five we got a bag of tangerines, all piled up and ready to go:I'm pretty sure if you shop a lot you wouldn't be surprised by the interior of the store, cookies, jams, mustards honeys and all the bric-a-brac one should probably expect in a store that sells oranges and lemons...I wasn't about to be seen walking around in one but I took a quick picture to remind myself where I was:And the old fashioned truck might look cute but orange processing has apparently moved along a bit with the times:When I lived in Fort Myers almost twenty years ago (oops!) I used to ride across the state to visit a friend in Palm Beach and a half hour out in the country I would ride towards LaBelle which in those days, and may in these days for all I know, had an orange processing plant by the side of the highway, west of the town. When they were working, it smelled like the sweetest orange sponge cake I had ever eaten as a child, and my nose would twitch under my helmet like a dog as a I passed by. Oranges and bananas, some of my favorite fruit and in Florida they grow together:Take that you ski fanatics hoping for snow and ice this Christmas Day. Put me in an orange grove when the fruit are ripening and I will be happy.We got back in the car clutching a quart (liter) of sweet fresh orange juice snagged for just three bucks and set off again down the highway.That was definitely not my last stop at an orange shop on a Florida highway. But next time I'm going without my wife because I have a feeling an orange flavored chocolate something might taste good while on the seat of a Bonneville. It's worth remembering too, not a hundred years ago, oranges were so rare and expensive they were treasured Christmas gifts. As they should be.