Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Surprising Art of Florida Orange Crate Labels

Image courtesy of the Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida
What do mermaids, pelicans, cowboys, owls, azaleas, and pirates have in common? Well?? 

If you’re stumped, we don’t blame you. The answer is that all of these things were once depicted on citrus crate labels attached to boxes of fresh Florida oranges.

Image courtesy of the Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida

f you’ve ever worked in a commercial kitchen, you may have seen some of the art that is “descended” from the tradition of produce crate labels. Large boxes of carrots, cabbage, and the like still sometimes feature branded mascots or fancy fonts meant to distinguish a company brand. But these leftovers really aren’t much like the elaborate and beautiful citrus crate labels that collectors now cherish. Let’s take a look back at the history of a practical idea that eventually became folk art and an important part of Florida’s agricultural history.

How the Labels Came to Be

Florida, of course, started growing oranges (and other citrus) hundreds of years ago, back in the 1600s. By the 1700s, we were shipping fruit to other colonies, and the industry only grew from there. However, it was hard for growers to “brand” their fruit such that buyers could know one grove or seller from another. Naturally, they wanted a way to help buyers remember their particular oranges, grapefruit, or tangerines.

California growers were actually the ones to come up with the idea of placing brightly colored paper labels on the wooden crates used to pack and ship fruit and vegetables. But Florida orange growers quickly caught on. These labels bore the names and logos of the growers, and soon became an obvious way for growers to distinguish themselves through a memorable image. The labels also served a practical function, with the background color denoting the grade of the fruit inside. Blue stood for grade A, red was grade B, and yellow or green was mixed grade.

Image courtesy of the Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida
Local and national artists found work designing eye-catching labels, some more tasteful than others. The colors are vibrant and luscious; the lithographic printing process used 16 colors and was able to depict a rich range. Many orange crate labels have a distinctly Florida feel, featuring palm trees, tropical foliage and flowers, alligators, wading birds, beach scenes, and the like—along with oranges and other citrus fruit, of course. Frequently an attempt was made to depict a carefree “Florida lifestyle”-- miles of orange groves, endless sunshine, beautiful sunsets, and so on. (Unfortunately, you will also occasionally encounter offensive racial stereotypes.)

End of an Era

This system flourished from the 1870s up to about the second world war, when the wood and metal used to make the packing crates became too valuable to use for fruit shipping and the industry switched over to printed cardboard. Though a few packers held on, by the late ‘50s, citrus crate labels had disappeared.
Image courtesy of the Jerry Chicone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection at the University of Florida

Today, we recognize that these labels represent a key part of Florida’s history, both because of our long history of growing oranges and other citrus and because of their unique artistic value. The University of Florida recently acquired over 3000 citrus crate labels from a private collector, Jerry Chiccone. Digital versions of the labels can be searched and viewed online at the Jerry Chiccone Jr. Florida Citrus Label Collection

Love the look of these labels? Want to enjoy gazing up at the glory of fresh, ripe Florida oranges, tangerine, and grapefruit depicted in art, every day, all year round? (We happen to understand.) You can easily find prints quite inexpensively--$15 and up. If you want the originals, it all depends on the type, subject, and condition. I found some on the web for as little as $5-15, though they can get up to $50 or more. Still, they’re an easily affordable collectible. Enjoy these fun artifacts from Florida’s citrus history.


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Thursday, March 8, 2018

FAQs about Choosing, Eating, and Juicing Oranges

Here at Florida Fruit Shippers, we get asked certain questions about our delicious oranges and citrus time and time again. We thought it would be fun and helpful to compile them into one FAQ. Have a juicy day!

You can figure out if an orange is ripe through the smell (sweet and fragrant) and feel (no soft spots and heavy for its size).

How can you tell if an orange is ripe and sweet?

Unlike many other types of fruit, oranges and other citrus do NOT continue to ripen after they are picked. In other words, they’d better be ripe when you buy them, because no further progress is going to occur! Fortunately, though, citrus is rarely sold significantly underripe. Some minor green color on the rind is not usually very significant and is probably more about the fruit having been exposed to warm weather. (In fact, did you know that in some parts of the world, oranges rarely turn “orange” at all?)

If you want to check on ripeness, though, smell and feel the fruit. It should be fairly soft (without having any overly soft spots) and have a sweet, fragrant aroma. An orange at its peak will be heavy for its size. A light, airy-feeling fruit is probably dry and past its peak.

Citrus isn't as perishable as some other fruits; it will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks

How long does citrus keep?

Citrus can be stored at room temperature for about 3-5 days (sometimes longer, depending). They will keep in the fridge for 2-3 weeks and sometimes more. One of the nice things about oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines is that they’re not nearly as perishable as some other fruits.

When is citrus season?

Many people tend to associate citrus with summer, maybe because of its refreshing flavor and the types of recipes we tend to make with it. However, citrus is more properly a cool-season crop grown in warmer climates, such as Florida. At Florida Fruit Shippers, we harvest our tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit from October through April, with the bulk coming ripe in the winter. 

Although Navel oranges are the most popular eating orange, there are plenty of delicious eating oranges.

What are the best eating oranges?

This is certainly a very hotly debated topic, but the most popular eating orange is the Navel, a sweet, juicy, seedless choice. However, there are plenty of other delicious eating oranges that people really love eating out of hand—for instance, the Temple, the tangelo, the Page, the Cara Cara, and more…not to mention all the wonderful kinds of tangerines.

What are the best juicing oranges?

Many people consider the Valencia to be the best juicing orange. These sweet, heavy oranges are thin-skinned, making them easy to juice. They’re a classic choice.

However, if you have access to other types of orange, you can try lesser known varieties like Hamlin oranges, Temples, Pages, or maybe blood orange, which make an exciting juice! Tangerines also make great juice.

You might be surprised to learn that Navels, a great eating fruit, aren’t a good choice for juicing if you don’t plan on drinking the juice right away. A compound in the flesh causes the juice to turn somewhat sour if it sits.
To get the most juice out of your citrus, gently roll it before you try to juice it!

What is the best way to juice an orange?

The first thing to know is that there are some tricks to get more juice out of any citrus. You can try rolling your oranges, tangerines, lemons or limes around on the counter while exerting some gentle pressure with the heels of your hands. Other suggest a brief spin in the microwave—about 10 seconds—to soften it up.

Next, you’re going to need a juicer! We’ve covered the question of finding the best citrus juicer on our blog before, so we won’t reinvent the wheel here. If you’re too impatient to read through that, the short version is that you can easily find a decent electric citrus juicer for under $20 these days, but you can spend up to $100 or more on a fancier electric or hand model that looks stunning on your counter.

How do you pick an orange off a tree?

If you’re lucky enough to have access to fresh citrus trees, you might want to know the proper way to pick the fruit! The key is to twist. If you pull the fruit straight off, you may leave a bit of rind attached to the tree and opening on the peel. This isn’t a big deal if you’re going to eat the fruit right away, but if you’d like to store it, it can cause the fruit to go bad. Twist, then pull. (Our pickers have this down to science!)

As far as ripeness goes, color is one indication, but fruit can be orange before they’re fully ripe and sweet and may be greenish while ripe. So taste-test!

Got more questions about oranges and other citrus? Contact us today!

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