Benny McLean of Uncle Matt’s Organic in Clermont, Florida, just west of Orlando, looks out over 100 acres of certified organic grapefruit trees. That’s enough trees to produce somewhere between 45,000 and 50,000 85-pound boxes of grapefruit. Along about now, he’s ready to start enjoying some of that fruit.
“We never start eating our grapefruit until after Christmas. That’s when they develop the sugar levels we like,” said McLean.
Uncle Matt’s Organic is the brainchild of his youngest son, Matt, uncle to nine nieces and nephews. The McLean family has been citrus farming for four generations and these days they harvest fruit from about 1,200 acres.
A grapefruit tree takes four years from planting to produce enough fruit for a commercial harvest. Before the freezes of the 1980s, there were 100-year-old citrus groves producing fruit. “In today’s world, we consider the life of a tree to be about 40 years,” said McLean.
They grow varieties that include red or dark red Rio Red, Ruby Red, Flame Star Ruby, Pink, and a white variety, the Marsh, McLean said. The red and dark red varieties are mostly for the fresh market while the Marsh is a juice crop.
Their grapefruit is picked on order meaning it stays on the tree until it’s sold. They can generally supply fresh grapefruit from December into May.
Keeping the fruit in good condition for that six-month window is a challenge. McLean rides through the fields every two weeks or so checking for damage. “We go ‘bug checking.’ looking for grasshoppers and other insects that might damage the fruit on the trees,” said McLean. They also sample the fruit, looking to harvest it at its peak sugar level.
When asked for advice on how to pick a grapefruit, McLean says, “We like to say that the flatter the grapefruit is the better it will taste. Experienced growers can tell by the shape if the grapefruit is ripe.”
Fresh grapefruit stored on your counter at typical room temperature will keep for a week, maybe two. For longer storage, refrigerate where it will keep for up to two months.
Wrecking Bar’s In the Park
Hands on: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
You can use prepared juice for this recipe, but while grapefruit is in season, why not juice your own? A 12-ounce grapefruit will yield about 2/3 cup juice.
1/2 lemon, cut into quarters
2 tablespoons light agave nectar, more if needed
6 fresh basil leaves, divided
3/8 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 cup gin
In the jar of a shaker, combine lemon, agave and 5 basil leaves and muddle. Add grapefruit juice and gin and fill shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Taste and add more agave if needed. If adding more agave, shake vigorously again. Fill a highball glass with fresh ice and strain drink into glass. Garnish with reserved basil leaf and serve.
Per serving: 205 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), 1 gram protein, 16 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 5 milligrams sodium.