"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt"
State 29: Florida February 10, 2018
We woke up in the emergency room parking lot in Gainesville, FL groggy, stressed and exhausted. Yesterday, we spent all night in the ER trying to find the cause of Nate's stomach pain and bleeding, and the doctors could not figure out what was wrong. Hopefully, Nate would recover and today would be a better day! Our first task was a 92 mile drive Southeast to the Cross Country Couple’s “Made in the USA” tour; Showcase of Citrus to learn about Florida citrus farming! However, we would not just wander around aimlessly looking at orange trees! We are not just going to take a leisurely tractor ride through Florida’s fields! We are the Cross Country Couple! Today, we are going to tour the Showcase of Citrus’s 2500 acre grove in a 14-foot-tall 4x4 monster truck!!! If you are ready, hop aboard, buckle your seat belts, and let’s go on this adventure together!
Dating back as far as 314 BC in China, an orange is a citrus fruit and hybrid between a pomelo and a mandarin. Orange trees typically grow in tropical and subtropical climates. They are the most cultivated trees on earth, and account for 70% off all citrus production in the world! Brazil is the world’s largest citrus producer growing on average 71 million tons of oranges each year. Unfortunately, the Florida citrus industry has been on the decline since the 1970’s. Tourism from Disney World and other attractions coupled with the influx of retirees have contributed to commercial and residential development throughout central Florida. The land is more valuable as homes and hotels compared to growing oranges! Many citrus farmers purchased their land long ago for as little as $1.00 an acre, and today the land is valued as high as $25,000 per acre! Florida may soon need the national park service to step in to prevent the states citrus industry from disappearing entirely!
After parking Rosie, we made our way up to the front desk to check out the farm stand, and purchase tickets for the monster truck ride. The cost was high at $25.00 per person, but when would the opportunity ever again present itself to ride through a citrus grove in a 14 ft. wide, 16 ft. tall, 40 ft. long 4x4 mammoth monster truck!!! Please see the pictures below.
Off we went on a 1-hour tour through native Florida woodlands, pasturelands, grovelands, and swamplands while learning the history of citrus and other interesting Florida factoids. Our driver pulled the monster truck over in the middle of the orange grove to share information about orange farming! One point of particular interest was what gives oranges their traditionally bright orange color. Most oranges throughout the world are not orange in color, but are instead actually green. There are two factors which give orange their distinctive color, and the first of which is exposure to the cold. Since Brazil has a tropical climate, all of their oranges are green, whereas Florida has a subtropical climate with cooler nights throughout the year causing the oranges to be more orange.
The 2nd factor contributing to the color of the orange is ethanol gas. Although, Florida oranges are more orange than most others, they still have streaks and shades of green. The oranges consumed in their natural form are exposed to ethanol gas to produce the perfectly uniform bright orange color we have all come to expect to see in the supermarket! Furthermore, 93% of all oranges grown at Showcase of Citrus are sent for juicing, and therefore not exposed to ethanol gas for color development. Isn’t the orange juice you drink every morning so very sweet? Therefore, there is absolutely no correlation between the color of an orange, and its sweetness. A green orange will be just as sweet as the brightest color orange you will find on any produce stand.
So how I can be certain I am picking the sweetest and juiciest orange available? The first thing to do is to ensure the oranges you are buying are in season. Navel oranges are the most common orange consumed in the US. Navel’s are not overtly juicy, and have thick skins for ease of pealing. The growing season for a navel oranges are from November to April. Make sure you are purchasing your fruit while in season.
In addition, oranges must be mature when picked, because they do not further ripen. Once the orange is plucked from the tree that is as good as that orange is going to get. The shelf life of an orange depends on a variety of factors largely dependent on the cultivator instead of the consumer. However, commercially, oranges can be stored in controlled-atmosphere chambers for up to 12 weeks after harvest, and once at home, oranges have a shelf life of about one month. If you want to be absolutely certain about the sweetness of an orange, ask your local produce clerk to cut up an orange so you can give it a taste!
We had a blast touring the Showcase of Citrus Farm in a monster truck! We went through a swamp, through the orange grove, fed cows oranges otherwise known as cow candy, and our driver allowed one of the people on the tour to drive the monster truck through the pasture! Please see the pictures below!
On our way back to the farm stand, we had a very unexpected and unfortunate surprise! Our monster truck suddenly broke down stranding everyone in the middle of an orange grove on a hot and humid 90 degree Florida day 14 feet in the air with no ladder to disembark! I swear I could not make this stuff up even if I tried! LOL!! Our driver attempted to radio for help, but received no response from the farm. I offered to call AAA as I would have loved to see the tow truck drivers face upon discovering he had to tow a monster truck out of a citrus farm. Unfortunately, the driver declined my offer, and soon thereafter received a response from the farm stand. Help was finally on the way!!! Fifteen minutes later, an another monster truck arrived to rescue us along with a backhoe driven by a person who appeared to not even be old enough to drive a car. However, our driver informed us he was the son of the farm owners, and was very capable of operating heavy machinery. The back hoe pulled our broken down monster truck to the side of the dirt road, and another monster truck pulled up alongside. However, the monster truck sent to rescue us was 3 feet taller than the one we were currently on. It was quite nerve racking walking from one monster truck to the other 17 feet in the air via an old rickety and rusty tailgate! Eventually we all safely made it on board and arrived back at the farm stand soon thereafter. I was just grateful we didn't break down in the swamp. Yuck! This is an experience I will never forget! Please see the pictures below.
After departing Showcase of Citrus, we drove 60 miles East to Christmas, FL for the Cross Country Couple's “Roadside Attraction” for Florida; Swampy, the world’s largest alligator. Swampy’s home is adjacent to the parking lot of Jungle Adventures a natural habitat of rare panthers, black bears, wolves, white-tailed deer, tropical birds, reptiles, mammals, and other critters native to Florida. Erected in 1992 and measuring in at 200 feet and 1 inch, Swampy is so gargantuan he contains a gift shop, parks administrative office, and a ticket booth accessed by patrons by entering the gator’s massive extended Jaws ARAGH! ARAGH! ARAGH! According to a local legend, a News Channel 6 van once backed over Swampy destroying 4 feet of his tail, and almost dethroning him as the World Largest Alligator. Now that is a great news story if I ever heard one! Today, Swampy’s tail is protected from reckless motorists by a series of concrete pillars. While Swampy is very photogenic and loves visitors, he gets very angry when people climb on his back! Razor sharp barb wire fencing has been erected over and around Swampy’s tail to prevent people from climbing on him. Parents make sure you keep a close eye on your 2 years olds! EEEKK! Please see the pictures below!
After departing Swampy; the World’s Largest Alligator, we drove 46 miles Northeast to New Smyrna Beach to partake in the Cross Country Couple's "Famous Food" for Florida, “Key Lime Pie”. Invented in the late 19th century by a Key West cook known simply as “Aunt Sally”, key lime pie is an American dessert consisting of 5 simple ingredients: key lime juice, egg yolks and canned sweetened condensed milk served in a pie crust. The traditional version of the recipe retains the egg whites for a meringue topping, but whipped cream topping is more commonly used today. Since key limes are more tart than the typical lime, a chemical reaction occurs when the condensed milk is mixed with the key lime juice resulting in the filling thickening without baking. However, key lime pies today are baked due to the risk of salmonella poisoning from consuming raw eggs.
Floridians take their key lime pie extremely seriously! How serious you ask? In 1965, Florida State Representative; Bernie Papy, Jr. introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine against anyone caught making key lime pie without actual key limes. How in the world would this have ever been enforced!!! Would the police be conducting stakeouts outside of PTA bake sales all across the sunshine state? Can you imagine cops conducting predawn raids, kicking in the front doors of homes all across Florida, and writing citations to grandma’s in their very own kitchen? Needless to say, the bill failed to pass! However, in 2006 the Florida House and Senate did successfully pass legislation proclaiming key lime pie as the official pie of Florida. Each year on the 4th of July weekend, thousands flock from around the world to the annual Key Lime Festival, to celebrate key limes contributions to the culture of Key West.
Tragically, the darkest days for limes still lie ahead, and 2014 will be forever immortalized as the year of the great lime shortage. 97% of all of the world's limes are grown in Mexico, and the perfect storm of bad weather, disease, and drug cartels caused the wholesale price of a case of limes to soar overnight from $15.00 to $100 a case! Mexican restaurants shamefully substituted lemons for limes in their time honored recipes! Margarita prices worldwide went through the roof! Florida invoked a mandatory rationing of key limes giving Key West first dibs on what few limes remained. People met in the dark shadows of back alleys all across the world peddling what had become the new green gold! News headlines all across the US proclaimed, “Limetastrophe!!!”, “Limepocalypse!!!”, “Limeageddon!!!” It was near anarchy the streets!!!
Thankfully humanity persevered, and each year’s lime crop since has been sufficient to meet world demand. This was great news for the Cross Country Couple, because today was the day we would be partaking in Florida Key Lime Pie! First, we had to find the best key lime pie the sunshine state had to offer, which was no easy task since we were not traveling South of Orlando during our week in Florida. To find out why please click here. After a lengthy google search, we found a seafood restaurant called Blackbeard’s Inn. As vegetarians, we were a tad apprehensive of patronizing a seafood restaurant, as the fragrance of fish would surely be quite overwhelming to the senses! However, Blackbeard’s had a 4.5 star rating on Google with 516 reviews, and best of all they handmade their own key lime pie. So off we went to Blackbeards Inn Seafood Restaurant.
After a brief wait, we were seated by the hostess, and a few moments later a cheerful waitress presented us with menus, inquired about our drink orders, and placed a basket of freshly baked rolls on the table. Wow, did they smell amazing! We informed our waitress we already knew what we wanted and proceeded to order 2 glasses of water, and 2 slices of key lime pie. Suddenly, the demeanor of our waitress changed from cheerful to grumpy. She said “You won’t be needing these”, grabbed the rolls off our table and stomped away! Lori and I both looked at each other in shock wondering what had just happened! I understand complimentary dinner rolls are reserved for those purchasing dinner, but there were no vegetarian options on the menu even if we wanted to order an entrée. Besides, I never asked for dinner rolls. The waitress brought them to our table of her own free will. Presenting someone with, warm, fluffy, plump, freshly baked dinner rolls, and then abruptly yanking them away is just plain mean! While we waited for the arrival of our key lime pie, the sweet aroma of freshly baked dinner rolls lingered in the air reminding us of the heartless cruelty of our waitress.
Fifteen minutes later, our waitress approached our table, and without saying a word, presented us with our pie before walking away! The presentation of the key lime pie was quite impressive. The ratio of filling to whipped topping appeared to be proportionate, and the plate was drizzled with what appeared to be a lime infused reduction. After taking a sip of water to cleanse the palate, I gingerly grabbed my fork bringing a man size bite of pie to my mouth. I then closed my eyes to fully experience the essence of the pie. The sweet whipped topping balanced with the tanginess of the key lime filling with perfect synchronicity. The crust was flavorful, flaky and evidently homemade. I did find the lime infused reduction drizzle to be overly sweet, which overpowered the dessert. Although key lime pie is not a dessert I would not actively seek out, the pie was quite delicious! Please see the picture below.
After departing Blackbeards Inn Seafood Restaurant, we drove across town to a Walmart where we spent the night. Tomorrow, we have a very exciting day planned! We will be visiting with two people very special to us who will be the first familiar faces we have seen after 7 months of full time vanning!
I would like to take a moment to thank all the followers of www.crosscountrycouple.com for your kind words following my recent ER visit. I am slowly beginning to feel better, and think it must have been something I ate. Your outpouring of support and encouragement have been exceptionally moving and greatly appreciated. Thank you all! :)