Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 167: Bright sweetness

The beautiful cover of McPhee's book

"Fresh oranges have become, in way, old-fashioned. The frozen product made from them is pure and sweet, with a laboratory-controlled balance between its acids and its sugars; its color and its flavor components are as uniform as science can make them, and a consumer opening the six-ounce can is confident that the drink he is about to reconstitute will taste almost exactly like the juice that he took out of the last can he bought. Fresh orange juice, on the other hand, is probably less consistent in flavor than any other natural or fermented drink, with the possible exception of wine.

The taste and aroma of oranges differ by type, season, county, state, and country, and even as a result of the position of the individual orange in the framework of the tree on which it grew. Ground fruit- the orange that one can reach and pick from the ground-is not as sweet as fruit that grows high high on the tree. Outside fruit is sweeter than inside fruit. Oranges grown on the south side of a tree are sweeter than oranges grown on the east or west sides, and orange grown on the north side are the least sweet of the lot. The quantity of juice in an orange, and even the amount of Vitamin C it contains, will follow the same pattern of variation. Beyond this, there are differentiations of quality inside a single orange. Individual segments vary from one another in their content of acid and sugar. But that is cutting it pretty fine. Orange men, the ones who actually work in the groves, don't discriminate to that extent. When they eat an orange, they snap out the long, thin blades of their fruit knives and peel it down, halfway, from the blossom end, which is always sweeter and juicier than the stem end. They eat the blossom half and throw the rest of the orange away."
from Oranges, John McPhee

McPhee published Oranges in 1966. I just spent two days traveling with him, primarily through the groves of Florida on his expedition to discover more about the fruit. His narrative writing made learning the minute details of the fruit and precariously vulnerable orange growing industry a sheer pleasure. I'm sure juice production is dramatically different now, over 40 years later. But reading the book was a vivid journey into the groves of another time, full of sweet flavor. The experience literally left me craving oranges as I read.

No comments: