Sunday, February 21, 2021

How are Oranges Harvested?

If you are from Florida or have ever driven a long distance through the state, maybe you’ve been lucky enough to pass though some of our beautiful orange groves when they were in blossom. The fragrance of those flowers when they're all in bloom is like nothing else in the world. I’ve even heard it said that it’s what we smell when we enter heaven!

Although the sight of these groves may be familiar to some, few of us are likely to ever have seen an orange grove being harvested. It’s not something you’re likely to catch sight of, in part because workers are quite efficient and it actually happens quite fast. Check out this video of orange pickers at work:

In many ways, citrus picking hasn’t changed all that much from how it’s been done for generations. First we wait until the oranges are ripe and in peak condition, since citrus does not ripen any further once it's off the tree. This isn’t just a matter of “looking” or even of tasting, though of course we do taste the fruit to check on its condition. In fact, this is done using a scientific process. We assess both the sweetness and the acidity of the fruit and determine that ratio is just right.

Out in the Groves

When things are in perfect balance, the pickers go out into the orange groves with ladders, place them against the trees or stand them up near the trees, and quickly remove the ripe fruit, using ladders when needed. Pickers wear special waist or shoulder bags to make it easy to harvest and keep on picking. When a bag of citrus is full, the orange picker empties it into a larger tub or basket, and then small open vehicles (called “goats”) bring the fruit to packinghouses or trucks.

By Hand or With Machines?

In more recent years, innovators have also developed mechanical orange harvesters that shake the fruit off the trees, reducing labor costs. However, these don’t work perfectly in many cases. Orange groves are not like vegetable fields that get replanted every rear; rows and trees may be irregular, and the work is not easy to standardize. Mechanical harvesters can damage the delicate fruit and trees.

Here at Florida Fruit Shippers, our oranges and other citrus are always hand-picked. While mechanical harvesters have their place due to their increased efficiency, beautiful gift oranges, tangerines, honeybells, and grapefruit like ours require a little more tender loving care to keep them in perfect condition. We also want to be able to look over the fruit to make sure it meets our standards. Nothing substitutes for the personal touch.

How to Pick if You Have Your Own Trees

If you’re lucky enough to have your own citrus tree or trees, the process to harvest the fruit goes like this. First you’ll want to make sure that the fruit is ripe; taste a few fruit to make sure they are sweet and juicy. You’ll want to start this as soon as they color up, but also remember that color is not always a good indicator of ripeness with citrus. A little cold weather is said to sweeten citrus, but it can also harm the ripe fruit if it gets too cold, so if you live in an area that freezes, be cautious. You wouldn’t want to lose the whole crop.

To pick, use a gentle twisting motion; you don’t want to “plug” the fruit. What do we mean by “plug”? That’s when the “end” of the orange comes off when you pick and leaves a little hole at the top of the fruit, exposing a little bit of the interior. This isn’t a disaster, but it does mean your fruit won’t keep long.

The biggest problem you may have at harvest as a home grower is reaching the fruit on taller trees. There are special devices for this, but I notice many people just don’t pick those high-up fruit. This isn’t an issue at first (though citrus trees take some time to bear a good crop) but will become one as the tree gets older and bigger.

Don’t feel like “farming” your own, or don’t live somewhere where this is possible? No worries. You can always order some beautiful fresh citrus by the box, crate, or gift basket. The only “picking” you’ll do is picking out your favorite.

Want to be notified when we post more articles? Sign up for our mailing list!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Tea and Oranges: A Classic Pair


“…and she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China…”

If you’re a fan of folk music or remember the ‘60s, you may know these famous lines from Leonard Cohen’s song Suzanne. There’s something about the line that feels mysterious and delightful. Tea and oranges are both simple but wonderful treats that humankind has been enjoying for generations, and there has long been a lucrative worldwide trade in both. In a lot of ways, they just seem to “go” together…and for many years, in many ways, they have.

Oranges, Tea, and...Everything

One can buy tens, hundreds, or perhaps even thousands of loose-leaf teas and tea bags with oranges as one of their flavors, or the primary flavor. One thing I’ve noticed about the sweet, fresh taste and scent of oranges is that they seem to go with almost everything. I have seen tea flavored with orange and: cloves, cinnamon, ginger, passionfruit, peach, lemon, licorice, hibiscus, mint, lemongrass, apple, lavender, vanilla, and schizandra berries (don’t ask me what those are), to name a few.

Healing Powers?

Part of the appeal may be that orange tea feels healing. Orange tea of one variety or another is often suggested as a cure for the common cold, sore throats, the flu, and so one. Orange peel is a natural decongestant and is healthy for us, too—it’s full of micronutrients and antioxidants. To brew a cold-busting orange tea, boil orange peels on the stove and add your choice of other fragrant and health-boosting ingredients, such as garlic, ginger, or turmeric, and serve with honey. Ahhh.

Delicious Orange Tea Treats

Of course, sometimes “tea with oranges” is purely a culinary delight. Have you heard of “Russian tea”? While tea is a major part of Russian culture, the "Russian tea" made popular here in the US doesn’t bear much, if any, resemblance to the strong and often smoky tea consumed in that culture. This cozy hot drink became popular in the southern US in the '60s and '70s and is often associated with church cookbooks and church gatherings; it usually contains black tea, orange juice or orange peel, and spices like cinnamon and cloves. There are even some “instant” versions out there that include Tang! (Remember Tang? Yikes.)

I've learned of another treat that combines jasmine tea with orange juice. Jasmine tea, if you’ve never had it, is a wonderfully delicate tea that combines tea with the indescribably haunting fragrance of jasmine flowers. Made by layering drying tea leaves with jasmine blossoms, the tea is very special. This drink plays off the floral and sweet flavors of the tea, and is served either hot or cold. I can imagine this being really wonderful with freshly squeezed and strained juice.

Let’s not forget about orange iced tea, a classic for good reason. Often associated with the south, this drink may be made by brewing one of the many “orange teas” previously mentioned, by adding fresh orange slices to regular black iced tea, or by combining iced tea with orange juice. Sometimes mint is included to make the flavor even fresher. No matter how you prepare it, the addition of fresh orange flavor to this delicious drink is perfection.

So what’s the story with the “tea and oranges” in Cohen’s song? I was delighted to learn that the tea mentioned is apparently one that my own mother has enjoyed for years, Bigelow’s Constant Comment. Many decades ago, the family behind this tea discovered an old recipe that included orange peel and warm spices, and gave it that name because of the “constant comments” they got on its delicious flavor. The rest, as they say, has been history for this classic pair.

Want to be notified when we post more articles? Sign up for our mailing list!

© 1996-2013 Vegetable Kingdom Inc., PO Box 530456, St. Petersburg, FL 33747 All rights reserved.
Florida Fruit Shippers® is a registered trademark of Vegetable Kingdom Inc.