Monday, January 11, 2021

Orange Juice

Orange juice from Whole Foods Market (screen shot January 8, 2021)
My preference is for half-gallon cartons of pasteurized orange juice.

Throughout the pandemic, I've been ordering Whole Foods orange juice through the above page at  Evidently, a lot of people are drinking orange juice this year. While sales of orange juice in the US had been declining for years, in 2020 they increased by around 10%, partly because there's a general belief that orange juice improves one's health -- which everyone is worried about. Also, more people have been eating breakfast at home, including more orange juice. (Source: Citrus Industry Magazine, January 8, 2021)

John McPhee's book Oranges tells the history of orange groves and orange juice production in Florida, as well as the history of oranges in many other times and places. In the 1960s, when McPhee wrote, the Florida orange-growing industry was completing the transition from producing and shipping fresh fruit up the east coast to producing frozen concentrate. 

The invention of frozen orange juice had caused huge change: while formerly, growers shipped boxes of fresh oranges to consumers, they now sent most of their produce to nearby factories, in which the more imaginative businessmen among them were investing their money. Instead of selling fruit whose flavor varied from season to season, from tree to tree, and even from one section of an orange to another, the factories blended multiple types of concentrated, processed, frozen juice (which tastes, says McPhee, like a blend of sugar and aspirin) with a little of the real thing. Small or large cans of juice concentrate became ubiquitous in supermarkets and home freezers.

McPhee wrote about consumers who had gladly switched over from squeezing oranges to reconstituting the syrupy stuff from the frozen cans. He discussed the sociology of orange-juice drinking: the blue-collar families of his day were still buying canned juice, while the educated consumer had embraced the frozen, and hardly anyone still squeezed their own. Neither the juice box nor the pasteurized OJ that's now most popular had yet been invented.

Researching his book, McPhee traveled the byways of rural Florida -- remember, before Disney. He observed that even the remaining roadside orange juice stands that he found were serving reconstituted juice concentrate. Further, his interviews with growers, pickers, and factory owners revealed that many orange groves were being cleared for new land use: the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral was in the process of being built on former groves. Finally, he wrote about the frenzy of effort to create new chemical orange juice surrogates. Add water to some crystals they were inventing -- they thought you would get orange juice. (I think they were actually creating Tang, but that was still in the future and they were optimistic.)

My orange juice for breakfast almost every day.
The Whole Foods orange juice carton has a new design.

When I was a child, everyone in my family had a small glass of orange juice with breakfast. My sister, brother, and I had been given "baby orange juice," that is, strained and sweetened orange juice, in our nursing bottles from something like the age of 6 months. It was a standard practice then, but is now considered very bad for babies. We survived.

My mother, like many people, switched from squeezing oranges to reconstituting frozen juice when this innovation became available in the 1950s. Some time in the 1970s, fresh-squeezed juice became a kind of a fad. Small markets or restaurants would have juice squeezers so they could make fresh juice on demand for their customers. Soon, bigger beverage bottlers began to offer fresh juice for the refrigerator aisles in the grocery store. This was much better-tasting than frozen juice. Then the orange processing industry developed pasteurized juice, which was less expensive and had a longer shelf-life but still tasted good. I continue to purchase and drink it. I guess I’ve been a very conventional consumer all my life!

Florida growers were the largest supplier of orange juice to Americans until 2017, when Brazil overtook them. Brazil currently leads the world in production of orange juice with nearly three times US production. Many Florida groves have been converted to other land use, like subdivisions of retirement homes. Florida citrus growers have struggled unsuccessfully against citrus diseases, and occasional frosts and hurricanes have destroyed orange trees over the years. Moreover, the price of Brazilian juice is lower; thus, many bottlers no longer buy American juice. The two cartons of orange juice in my refrigerator list Mexico -- the world's third-largest producer -- as the country of origin. (Statistics on global production here.)

Hesperides by
Samuel Tolkowsky. (link)
Over the years, I've read several other books about the history of citrus fruit. My favorites are McPhee's book (which I first read in 2008 and then In 2016, with my culinary history reading group, and again this week) and a very old and hard-to-find book titled Hesperides: A History of the Culture and Use of Citrus Fruits by Samuel Tolkowsky. This extensive book covers the history of entire citrus family from ancient times up until the book’s publication in 1938 -- a very interesting cultural study!

When my culinary reading group read Oranges, we particularly admired John McPhee's style and his captivating way of portraying the many people in the orange growing business in Florida. His sketches of the lives of advertising men, grove owners, fruit pickers, and many others enlivened his description of the history of citrus in Florida. Though out of date (the book has not been revised since its publication in 1966) the book brings a lot of the business of citrus to life. We wished there would be an update to tell us about modern issues like labor fairness, water consumption, climate change, and fluctuating demand from consumers of orange juice. 

I'm sharing my orange juice memories with Elizabeth and the other bloggers who like to talk about drinks once a week. This post is based on my previous writings about McPhee's book,  blogged here and here as well as current thoughts, so it is copyright © 2008-2021 by mae sander.


Iris Flavia said...

Glad you survived! Boy..., my parents smoked in the closed car and I´m still here, too! We sure are fool-proofed, huh!
Argh... you make me want to buy that book, also!!!

Bleubeard and Elizabeth said...

As always, you have created a most unusual post. I never got baby orange juice and I remember when I was a child, real orange juice was a rarity. Instead, my grandparents purchased bags of oranges over the winter, some of which were eaten, some o which were squeezed over a glass squeezer by my grandmother. I still have that glass squeezer, too. It didn't squeeze, you just press and twist the orange around the top until all the juice and pulp were in the bottom of the container.

Thanks for such an interesting and inventive post and for the reminder from my childhood, too. It is perfect for T this week, Mae.

Jeanie said...

This one sounds interesting. I love OJ but don't drink it a lot. Never tried Whole Foods -- but I suspect they are as good or better than most!

Tina said...

I don't remember baby orange juice but perhaps we didn't have juice all that much. When I was a child they found I had a bad reaction to cow milk and so my Dad went to the Amish community and bought goat milk for me. I don't know why I thought about that just now, just thinking of breakfast when I was growing up. It's a wonder we survived eating Scrapple. My cholesterol!

It's certinly true in Florida there are more retirement communities where there used to be orange groves.

Valerie-Jael said...

I remember sweetened orange juice which we were given as babies and kids, and yes, we survived, too! Happy T Day, Valerie

My name is Erika. said...

This book sounds fascinating. I bookmarked it as it is something I would enjoy reading. Have you read Banana:The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World (Dan Koeppel)? it is a fascinating read about the history of the fruit and how there is a race to find a replacement since the variety we buy now is being attacked by a fungus. And in your comment on my blog today you questioned using the word organic with art. Organic would be a freeform "natural" shape. A machine or a car would not be organic, but leaf shapes would be. Something that flows... I don't know if that helps. Have a great TT day Mae.

Tandy | Lavender and Lime ( said...

I don't think I've ever noticed pasteurized juice here. I shall take a look to see if it's available. I buy fresh juice, with the pulp if I don't squeeze my own.

kathyinozarks said...

Good evening, very interesting post and I enjoyed it. I remember we always had a small glass of orange juice too, and at my Grandma's farm she had special orange juice glasses she served it in every morning. I am old haha so good memories for me Happy T wishes

Kokopelli said...

I remember my Mom making fresh orange juice for us on Sundays during winter, when oranges are widely available around here, Loved it! I still do it now and the, but mix the oranges with grapefruits. Interesting facts on oranges and orange juice Thanks for sharing!

Let's Art Journal said...

So interesting to see the sales of orange juice increasing over the year and I loved reading about its history too 😁. Happy T Day! Hugs, Jo x

DVArtist said...

This is a fabulous post. I enjoyed it very much. So much knowledge on the the Orange industry. Thank you.

Divers and Sundry said...

I love John McPhee but haven't read this. I appreciate fresh-squeezed OJ, just not enough to actually do it ;) I remember oj from my childhood being the frozen kind. I keep the little Simply Orange bottles mostly for use in rum punch drinks - more a summertime thing. I do keep oranges for eating.

Happy T Tuesday!

Linda Kunsman said...

Interesting post. We used to drink OJ each morning but no longer do because of the acidity, so I take a Vitamin C tablet every other day:) Happy T day!

Karen said...

This was a very interesting post that sent me down memory lane! we did have small juice glasses with orange juice when we had Sunday breakfast. I can remember the frozen OJ in the can and trying to get it to plop out in one piece in the pitcher without making a mess (and the sound too!) Now I only have OJ when I have a mimosa and the ratio is more champagne :)

Lisca said...

How interesting! I love reading about food things.
I grew up with oranges being sqeezed by my mum, especially in winter when she told us we needed the vitamins. I have never really taken to the bottled variety and still don't buy it. We still buy our oranges and squeese them, and if you follow my blog, you know that when my friend and I go for a drink after our wlak, it always is squeezed orange. (And I want to see them squeeze it).
Happy T-Day,

Eileen Bergen said...

I didn't have fresh-squeezed OJ as I child. But now, I'm fortunate to live in a country where fresh-squeezed is still the norm. Not that I squeeze my my own necessarily. I can buy fresh-squeezed on several street corners and many restaurants around town any day of the week.

Happy T-day! Eileen xx

CJ Kennedy said...

Who knew there was so much history to the simple orange. So very interesting. We don’t buy orange juice. I like juice with pulp and they don’t. Happy T Day

Kate Yetter said...

Very interesting. I like orange juice but I don't ever buy it. It is just another drink full of sugar that my kids would consume in one sitting.
Sorry I am a bit late making it around.
Happy belated Tea day,

pearshapedcrafting said...

This is a fascinating post! One of my cravings when pregnant with my first was a strange combination of canned tomato soup followed by a fresh orange! I remember Cow and Gate Orange juice which had a strange flavour and also when my Mum used to buy the concentrate - not unpleasant and we drank it happily!
Our Milk man used to deliver bottles of orange juice that clearly weren't fresh orange but so refreshing!
Interesting that sales of orange juice increased during 2020! Belated Happy T day, Chrisx

Sharon Madson said...

Very interesting post. I love fresh orange juice. My husband was told not to drink orange juice because of the sugar, as he had a risk of developing diabetes. So, we never have it. But I do eat oranges, even though he won't. Happy T Day!