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© 2016 by Chef Jennifer M. Denlinger.  All Rights Reserved

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FLORIDA FOOD HISTORY

 

The History of Food in Florida

 European Explorers first hit Florida soil more than 500 years ago, making it the oldest settlement in the Union.  Florida has a rich agricultural influence, and many of the nations foods are reliant on the rich Florida soil and mild year round weather.   By looking at what the settlers first ate when reaching our soils and cross referencing to what we have as commodities today, we can a better understanding of how food gets to our table, and why it takes, what it takes.

 

Here's a look at some of our top producing crops- and how they got on our table

FLORIDA BEEF

Florida is currently 10 in the nation for beef cows, third east of the Mississippi.  We are considered a “cow/calf” state- meaning we breed and wean the cattle.  In the state of Florida, there are about 19 million people, and 1 million cows  The top breeds of beef cattle in Florida are Angus, Brahman and Hereford.  Angus and Brahman are the breeds that thrive in the intense Florida heat.  Most crossbreeds have some Brahman in them since they are the original Florida Cow, and are designed to stand the Florida climate, and terrain.

      The cows with just the pure black hide can be called Angus.  Angus draws more $ per pound, but each cattle get a smaller yield.  Brahman are great cattle for the heat and humidity of Florida, but have a bad reputation for "tough meat"        Brahmans have a small hump or hunch in the back, and folds of skin under the neck.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Now the Florida Cracker got his name from the sound their whips make, which is their preferred method of cattle herding, as opposed to the rope (lasso).  The cracking noise is used to scare the cattle to go to the direction desired.  Commonly, it is used to drive herds out of wetlands, and of marshy forests, which is common in the Florida landscape.

      All cattle are branded with ranch/ owner, then with a bovine number (on hip), and then the year it was born (behind shoulder).  They are also essentially micro chipped with a RFID tag.  Any time there is any interaction with the bovine, is scanned and tracked in the computer.  The natural ranch grass (hay) in Florida has less protein than the grass in the mid-western states.  (Therefore- when the bovine are shipped to the west- they have to eat less.  Consequently- mid western cattle cannot be relocated to Florida, because their bodies are unable to adapt- whereas Florida cattle can adapt to the higher protein grass.)

      Throughout the landscape stand patches of palmettos.  Every other year they must be burned.  The saw grass that grows in between the palmettos then comes back is super tender, and a treat for the cattle (and the deer).

      Eighty percent of the cattle are raised for beef.  The remainders are used for reproductive purposes.  There are four segments within this industry:  pure bread operations, cow/calf operations, stocker operations, and feedlot operations.  Florida does pure bread, cow/calf, and stocker operations.

     Between September 1st and November 1st, contracts go out to Mid-West buyers.  The cattle are grass fed mainly, then when sold, and sent to feel lots.  Current market price is $2.25 a pound of live bovine. When the bovine go to market, the desired sell weight for Steers is about 550#, and Heifers is 500#.

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2015).  Florida Beef.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZELLWOOD SWEETCORN

There several varieties are grown in Zellwood, Florida.  In the spring:  Fantastic and Awesome.  In the fall:  Obsession.  For the sweet corn market, South Florida had a large portion of the share (silver queen variety), followed by South Georgia.   The amount of money that was invested with the amount of crop of corn that was harvested put the corn market in spiral, so no one could make money.

    This Zellwood Sweet Corn is very finicky, and hard to grow.  It produces about 1/3 the amount that is harvested in other sweet corn markets.  (About 300-325 bushels an acre).

     This supersweeet corn has a longer shelf line and markets itself better than the silver queen common varieties.  It is also priced better.

     Normally, in the market you can find yellow corn, white corn, and bi-colored corn.  In order to have separate colors, there must be no cross pollination- which is very difficult to do.  So, in order to please everyone, they grow bi-colored corn. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corn is pollinated through the wind, so cross pollination very difficult to control.  Corn is fertilized at 300# an acre with dry fertilizer.

     There is interesting system of crop rotation.  During the summer months, they grow a legume, or sorghum or millet on their fields, solely for the purpose of replenishing the soils nutrients.  They are not harvested at all- just cultivated back into very sandy soil.

      Every kernel of corn has its own silk.  And the silks are hollow.  They form a tassel on the top.  If something interferes with tassel, or the silk gets clogged, then it will affect the individual kernel.  (That’s why an entire ear can look great, but there may be one random kernel on the inside that is not the same quality).

     During harvest time, a USDA inspector takes samples to test.   This corn is harvested by hand- usually two runs.  The second pass is to collect the corn that was not ready the first pass.  Corn actually grows off the stalk of the plant, not the top.  And each stalk can do two ears.

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2014).  Zellwood Sweetcorn.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

 

 

CITRUS AND ORANGE JUICE

Florida is in hot pursuit for being the world leader of orange juice, trying to keep up with Brazil.  Citrus is collected from around the state, and delivered to several processing facilities.  The citrus is washed and lightly scrubbed with a food grade detergent.  It is also graded for quality, and depending on the type of press, sorted by size.  Juice presses must be leased, according to law.

      When the citrus is pressed, the oil from the skin also is extracted.  The oil in the citrus peels normally separates to the top.  This oil in the peel is how the juice gets its texture and smell!!!!  Some juice companies then proceed to emulisfy the oil back into the juice. (The process of emulsification is done by forcing through a very fine screen).  This improves viscosity of the juice, keeps it from separating, and well as the aroma that comes with packaged juice.  It helps improve the consistency of juices produced.  However, this citrus oil is what can cause acid reflux in some people.  Some companies will sell off the oil to other companies.

     The pressed peels are then called frith. Peels can possibly be pressed for more oil.  This type of oil can be fermented to make ethanol.  The pressed peels are sold either as wet or dry to companies who make animal feed, especially cattle feed.

    A lot of time juice is blended by batch to ensure consistency.  To pasteurize juice, it is heated to 165°F. for 6 seconds and then immediately dropped to 33°F.  Pectin is a natural byproduct in juice; it is what helps with the consistency.  Since all juice naturally has peel oil in is, it causes the pectin to break down, resulting in a juice that has separated (think of home-squeezed OJ- you have to shake it).  This can be avoided by raising the temperature of the pasteurization to 185°F.

      When juice is concentrated down, it is processed in boilers that reduce it down to a certain brix level (sugar content).  The water that is removed by evaporation is collected and then returned to the production line and used for cleaning equipment.  This water has no taste- but smells exactly like the citrus it came from!

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2014).  Florida Citrus and Orange Juice . Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

 

 

KIRBY CUCUMBERS

Cucumbers are planted twice a year and grown from Mid-September, to mid-November, and then April to June.  It takes 30-40 days for a cucumber plant to come to maturity and produce fruit.  The cucumbers are collected and immediately washed to remove the field dirt.  The cucumbers are then graded for size and appearance.  They pass over a set of rollers, which determines the size.  “Ugly” cucumbers and ones that are broken or cracked are removed from the line, and placed in a bin that is sold to farmers for animal feed.  From there, the cucumbers are sent through a brush washer to remove more soil and the “little bumps” on the outside of the skin.

      The fruit then passes through a long flume which to remove the field heat.  The water is 38°F. After this, the cucumbers go over a sponge roller which removes water, and slightly polishes.  It goes through a depositor for sizing.  It is also then graded for aesthetics.

      The facility is inspected once a year by the USDA, but they can have surprise inspections at any time.  Every morning, pre-shift, all equipment is washed down with a bleach water solution.

      Each plant gets 4-5 pickings to get the maximum yield out.  Each pick yields about 130 bushels.  (One bushel is 50#).  For the last picking, they use a machine, which rips the plant out of the soil, separates the plant from the fruit, then discards the plant, and partially turns it back into the soil.

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2014).  Kirby Cucumbers.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

 

FLORIDA BLUEBERRIES

Blueberries are in bounty in late spring, and can commonly be found at U-pick farms that dot the countryside.  This unseemingly fruit actually takes a lot of effort to produce the sweet, succulent berries.

     There are approximately 20 varieties of blueberries in Florida, most of them developed by The University of Florida.

     Before the U-pick season starts, the plants are heavily fertilized, and checked for pesticides, etc.  The new growth then will become more productive.  The clippings are then hedged back in.  Blueberries are very susceptible to stem blight, so they are then coated with a stemicide through the irrigation system.

     Blueberries are harvested in the early spring.  Then they are hedged, and mulched.  At the end of August fertilization begins.   Blueberries have a shallow root system, so a drip irrigation system works the best.  They are watered 3-4 times a day for 20 minutes.  Each plant needs about 4 gallons of water a day.   If there is no rain for 7 days, then the overhead sprinkler system is used.

Two- three times a week, a liquid fertilizer is applied

      Blueberries need a low pH soil level (4 -5).  The native Florida soil is about 7-7.5.  The pH level is then fixed by using a pine much cultivated in.  They enjoy porous soil, so a 50/50 mix of peat moss and pine bark is advantageous.  Blueberry plants hate salt, so fertilizers with chlorine need to be avoided.  A typical fertilizer contains Magnesium, Nitrogen, Phosphate, soluble Copper, Iron, and Zinc for filler, and Potassium.  Micronutrients are delivered through a spray.  As the pine bark decomposes, it releases Manganese- more than necessary.  If there is too much Manganese delivered, it can become toxic, and will decrease production.  A mixture of 14-14-10 (N-P-K) plus extra Phosphorus is delivered several times a year.

      Berry plants are started in gallon pots in February.  It takes 13 months to produce fruit.  One plant will yield approximately 2# of berries a plant.

     For pollination, honeybees and bumblebees are used.  Bumbles bees are better.  Since the blossom is “closed”, bumblebees are beneficial because they spread pollen by rapidly flapping their wings.  This also causes the plant to be over-pollinated.  Over-pollinating the plant causes the seeds inside to be bigger, hence increasing the weight of the berry.  This is beneficial since blueberries are sold by weight.

    Unlike strawberries, which are picked and immediately packed into clamshells, blueberries are picked in a long flat bucket that is worn over a harness.  The berries are field graded, then weighed for pay.  A good (professional) picker can pick upwards of 400# a day.

     Berries are packed and put on a refrigerated truck at 55°F.  Then brought to a packinghouse at 50°F.  They must be 45°F to be packed.  Blueberries are shipped at 34°F.

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2014).  Florida Blueberries.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

 

 

FLORIDA STRAWBERRIES

In Florida- the largest production area for strawberries is located near Plant City, Florida- the central West coast of the state.   That area is classified as the strawberry capital of the world.   Florida Strawberries are considered winter berries- in season from Thanksgiving to Easter- peaking in crop production in early March usually.   

      Today strawberries are commercially grown over packed raised beds that are covered in plastic to ensure the berries don’t sit on the soil.  You cannot grow a strawberry from seed.  They must be started from a clipping, or runner of another plant.     

       Generally speaking, small berries are usually more flavorful than the giant berries.  They are the best when plump, and firm, with even color and a gloss to the skin.   They must be picked when ripe, because they do not ripen once picked.   Today, all commercial berries are sold in plastic clamshell containers.  In order to prevent over handling of the fruit- the pickers pack the clamshells in the field.  From there, they are brought to chill rooms that contain blast chillers to immediately drop the temperature of the fruit down to preserve their freshness.  Strawberries should be stored cold, about 32°F to 36°F and about 95% humidity.      Strawberries taste best at room temperature- so remove them from refrigeration about 30 minutes before you are ready to serve them

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2014).  Florida Strawberries.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

 

CAVIAR

By definition, caviar is the cured eggs of a Sturgeon Fish. They must be from a sturgeon.  Florida has a certified Fresh From Florida Caviar Farm that has met all the requirements for sustainability.  In order to harvest caviar, the fish must be euthanized.  So how can that be sustainable?  Well their entire process and their facility meet the state's definition of sustainable.

      There is a large lake on property, which was used for filtration system.  It helped with the natural recycling.

There are approximately 20 or more, large man made fish ponds consisting of three different species of Sturgeon.  Many of these fish tanks were constructed of an old grain silo sliced up and re-purposed.

     Beluga, Osetra, and Sevruga Sturgeons are raised.  (There are native Florida Sturgeons; however, they are not using them for roe production.)  Since these fish are non-native species to Florida, the tanks had to have a cover over the area to prevent birds coming and trying to steal the fish (and dropping them alive in other water sources).

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

In each of these tanks, there are approximately 250-500 sturgeon in each tank, depending on the age and size of each fish.  For the tanks that sevruga are located in, they have to be covered with a screen, because Sevruga's tend to jump quite high.  The tanks are approximately 4 1/2 feet deep, and the water temperature is maintained around 23°C.

     Each fish is approximately 15-20 kilo in weight before they are killed.  Out of this, 8-15% of this weight is caviar.  As the fish gain the proper size, the fish are moved to tanks within a barn with the coldest water possible.  The dark, and the cold, help calm the fish down.  Prior to harvest, food is withheld from the fish for approximately 6 months.  The fat that the fish has acquired during pregnancy is eaten for food by the fish, making the egg sacs very predominate.  When the fish is ready, the ridge on the belly protrudes. 

     A strict HACCP plan must be followed.  Everything is monitored and recorded.  At the time of harvest, the fish is first removed from the tank, and put into a stretcher where is first allowed to calm down.  A biopsy is taken.  A thin (millimeter or so) tubular needle is inserted into the belly of the fish (similar in size and shape of a larding needle).   A sample of a dozen eggs are removed from the belly where they are tested for size, shape, color, firmness, and taste.  All equipment is sterilized with a dip in rubbing alcohol, then in a new batch of rubbing alcohol, then in clean water.  

     Part of the HACCP plan was that the killing and the processing had to be done in two separate locations.  The "kill room" was chilled to about 50°F, had a table for "the deed", and a rack on the wall for hanging and bleeding the fish over a draining.  The "clean room" was set at 44°F, and was a sterile environment.  You are not able to go from the kill room to the clean room.  Before entering either room, you had to garner hair and beard nets, shoe booties, and a lab coat, and numerous disposable single use gloves.  

     The fish are euthanized by hitting with a blunt object to the head.  Each fish had 2 roe sacks, one on either side of the belly.  The roe is placed into sterilized stainless steel bowls, and then passed through a window to the "clean room". 

     Each sack is rubbed through a screen and the eggs fall into a bowl, and the membrane that holds the eggs together remains on top, and is discarded.  

     The eggs are rinsed in cold water, put into small batches in a flexible screen strainer.  The eggs are carefully rotated around and any egg that was inferior, had blood or mucus still attached, or the wrong color was removed with a pair of tweezers.  This was a very tedious and painstaking task that had to be done to ensure the good quality of the finished product.  The screens of roe are then set in front of fans to try to dry out some of the moisture.  

     The roe is then weighed and a dendritic salt is added.  Dendritic salt is a small flake sun dried sea salt.  The amount of salt that is added varies by company, but it is approximately 3.5%.  The salt is gently folded in, and then the eggs are put back in the strainers and under the fan to dry about 5 minutes- until they look dry.

     The eggs are then packed into tins.  This company only sells wholesale, so we used large tins to pack.  Industry standard is to pack the tin, then mound in on.    The tins are then pressed, capped, and sealed with a Rubber band.  At this point, the eggs are moved a 28°F room where they are weighted and pressed for a minimum of 30 days for selling.  The wholesales price is over $1000 a pound. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J. (2014) Florida Caviar.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

FLORIDA WINE

A certain contender in the world of wine are the wines cultivated and grown here in Florida.  Since Florida battles long hot and wet summers, with very sandy and minerally soil, growing winemaking grapes and producing wine in Florida is a unique process. 

      There are two families of wine-making grapes that thrive here in Florida:  Bunch grapes, and Muscadine grapes.  These grapes are not too picky with the texture of the soil, but need some help with the nutrients of the soil.  They are not subject to the indigenous and deadly Pierce's Disease that affects non-native grapes, and typically results in death of the vine in 3-4 years.  Therefore, growing Florida hybrid bunch grapes, and Muscadines are a must. 

     Common Muscadine varieties include:  Noble, Carlos, Welder and Magnolia.  Florida hybrid bunch grape varieties include:  Stover, Blanc de Bois, Carlos, and Suwannee. Muscadines are available during mid to late August.  Florida bunch grapes are available mid June each year

      Grapes are harvested mechanically, with a beater, which contains flexible rods that shake the vine canopy.  Leaves and stems are removed and the grapes are brought to the press.  Grapes are pressed using a membrane, which inflates and crushes the grapes.  During this process, rice hulls are sometimes added; in order to ensure the grape skins move throughout the process and extract juice from crushed grapes.  This unfermented grape juice is called "must".  Must is also the term used for the crushed grapes.

      At this point, the must is moved to storage in large vats (5,000 to 25,000 gallons in capacity), where they are blended and fermented.  They then undergo clarification and stabilization.  A mere 6 to 8 months later, they are bottled and labeled. 

      The sugar level of Muscadine grapes is about 13-15%, whereas the sugar level of Florida hybrid bunch grapes is about 16-17%.  If there is not enough sugar in the grapes, it is acceptable to add sugar to increase the sugar content to a permissible level.   Sugar of the wine is judged using a hydrometer.  (Sugar floats at a specific density).  A refractromter is usually only used when evaluating the grapes in the vineyard. 

     Because of the mineral content of the soil in Florida, Florida wines have a unique and pleasant palate. 

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J (2014).  Florida Wines.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

CABBAGES

Cabbages are members of the Brassica family which includes plants such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, collards, and trunips. 

      Members of the Brassica family have super tiny seeds.  Cabbages are started in a greenhouse until their root ball is ¾”.  Then they are transferred to the fields.  In one row, they are packed together 2-3 deep in each row.  There is a fine art to plant cabbages.  They like to be grown in dense rows.  These allows for a dense, tight head.  However, this also increases the chance for disease and weeds.  All of these crops thrive in a soil pH of 6.5. 

     Cabbages thrive in weather that is 65-70°, with a low of about 50° at night. Any colder, the plants do not take up the fertilizer.

        When red cabbage is ready to go, the outer leaves will have green tinge- almost makes it look copper in color.  Red cabbage takes about 2 more weeks than the green cabbages to get ready.

 

 

 

 

 

      

 

 

 

     Cabbages do not liked to be touched- so they are processed as least as possible.   They are also packed in boxes while in the field.  Ideally, the cabbage fields are picked through twice.  They are hand harvested with swift slice of a knife.  Tight and dense cabbage heads are cut and packed with 2-3 “outer leaves”.

      When cabbages are harvested, they are put into a cooler at 35° to get field heat off head.  The internal temperature must get to 40°. 

 

cite  me:  Denlinger, J. (2015).  Florida Cabbage.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net

FLORIDA BLACKBERRIES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florida blackberries are mainly grown as an agritourism business.  The thornless varieties are not commercially viable since there is such a strong competition from Mexico.  Varieties that grow well in Florida are Natchez, Ouachita, and Osage.  These thornless varieties were developed by Professor Dr. Clark at the University of Arkansas.  They are commercially grown in South America, Mexico, North Carolina and Arkansas. 

Blackberry plants take one year to produce fruit.  They start blooming in early March and harvest begins in early April. 

      Thornless blackberries are low chill hour bushes.  They don’t rely on a nocturnal change in temperature to indicate the level of their sweetness.  Blackberry plants love water- the more the better.  The water is delivered solely through drip irrigation.  Since pine bark mulch is not needed as with blueberries, sulfur is added to the soil, and tilled in with phosphorous until a pH level of 5.5 is achieved.  This also means that manganese needs to be added to the soil.

     Natchez is the early harvest, followed by Osage, then Ouachita.  Trellising blackberries can help conserve water and reduce pesticide usage.  Trellises that are used are in a v-formation, just as wine grapes are trellised.  There is no natural bloom on the blackberry, so it is susceptible to sunburn and will bleach the berry white.  The trellis helps shape the berry correctly. 

     Natchez are very large berries with a traditional blackberry flavor.  This variety spreads rapidly and must be trellised immediately.  Every nob that hits the soil will take root.  If the berry is not completely ripe on the busy, it tends to be tart.

     Osage are the smallest but sweetest of the three varieties.  They have the very little natural blackberry flavor.  This variety grows upright and is very vigorous, and could be fine with out trellising. 

     Ouachita are medium sized berries with sweet blackberry flavor.  These can also be grown with out a trellis, but usally are. 

     Blackberries are moisture sensitive once they are off the bust.  They are packed with a moisture absorbant cloth in the bottom of the continer.  They are also very sensitive to pressure, so there fore usually only packed in 6oz contatiners. 

The biggest contenders for the blackberries are squirrels.  Blackberries are also susceptible to fungus

 

cite me:  Denlinger, J. (2015) Florida Blackberries.  Retrieved from:  FloridaChef.net