Local Wisdom

Ode to a Fresh-Fruit Stand

Newcomers to Orlando" target="_blank">Orange County often take a look around and wonder: "So, where are all the orange groves?"

As recently as the early 1970s there were more than 80,000 acres of citrus trees. But then came a triple whammy of hard freezes, citrus canker and real estate development. By 2004, citrus acreage in Orlando" target="_blank">Orange County had dropped to less than 6,000 acres and the big commercial growers had all headed south.

Like many others who grew up here, I have a biological citrus clock. It starts ticking in the fall when the first fruit begins to ripen. That's when I get a hankering for biting into something sweet and juicy-a hankering that only fresh-picked citrus can satisfy.

So I drive up U.S. Hwy. 17-92 to Maitland and pray that Hollieanna Groves has opened for the season. There's no telling exactly what day each fall the Lingle family, who have owned the roadside retail operation for more than a half-century, will begin welcoming customers.

"We wait until the fruit starts to color up," says Kurt Lingle. His father, Glenn, bought Hollieanna Groves in 1954 and continues to work alongside three generations of Lingles, including daughter Alinda "Punky" Buerk and granddaughter Christine Lingle. "It's usually the first week of November, but it all depends on the fruit."

And the fruit at Hollieanna Groves is as good as you'll find anywhere. It's far and away better than the mass-produced, tasteless stuff that gets put out for sale in the supermarkets.

Along the bustle of 17-92, with million-dollar lakefront homes to one side and busy restaurants and offices on all others, Hollieanna Groves is a throwback to a bygone era. The Lingles sell oranges and grapefruit to be peeled and eaten, not to be frozen and repackaged as concentrate. The inventory comes from the family's 100-acre grove near Fort Pierce, in Indian River County, and another 90-acre grove near Geneva, in Seminole County.

The trees are picked by hand using old-style wooden field boxes, not the big plastic crates favored by wholesale growers. Then the fruit is brought to Maitland, where it is graded and culled. About half of it winds up in gift boxes that are shipped up north. The rest is sold by the quarter-bushel, half-bushel and bushel to citrusphiles like me, who try to stop by Hollieanna at least every week or so during the season to sample the latest shipments.

For some folks who don't know any better, oranges are just oranges, and grapefruit just grapefruit, and who cares beyond that? But the citrus season at Hollieanna is a riot of flavors and varieties. First among the oranges come the Ambersweets and the Navels, followed by the Hamlins and the Honeybells, with my favorites, the Temples, bringing up the rear in February and March. Tangerines move from the FallGlows in October to the Sunbursts in December and the Murcotts from January through March. There are four kinds of grapefruit, from the Ruby Reds and the Marsh to the Flames and the Pinks.

And then there's the juice, both grapefruit and orange. The Lingles squeeze it fresh on the premises with a special contraption that allows not a drop of the bitter peel oil to mar the flavor. Just how good is it? Put it this way: During the height of the season, Hollieanna sells all it can produce-about 100 half-gallon jugs per day.

There's a big vat of juice on the counter, with a free cup for anyone who drops by. If you try it, you'll buy it.

Yes, the groves may be gone. But thank goodness there are still places like Hollieanna to satisfy our citrus needs. They'll be open through the winter and into the early spring.

"The fruit will tell us when it's time to close," says Kurt Lingle.

Get there before then.

Orlando Homebuyer managing editor Bob Morris is a Central Florida native. His new novel, Bahamarama, published by St. Martins Press, is now in bookstores. He reminds us that unless it contains pulp, it isn't really orange juice.