Learning Florida: Our Orange Legacy at MOSH

Florida's Exotic Fruit: Our Orange Legacy, xiaolong wong

Florida’s identity is wrapped up in one fruit: the orange.

It’s an industry that’s changed with the times, that’s changed with scientific and agricultural advancement, and that will keep changing. For the last year, I’ve been writing Florida’s Oranges: A Colorful History. In it, I’ve given the reader snapshots of this 500 year history and the various places around the state where oranges have been cultivated.

What I’ve found is that orange history is messy, interesting, and bound around unexpected things, things such as gay rights, privacy law, immigration, even voting rights and past KKK activity in the state.

On February 21st, I’ll be sharing a small part of that early history here on the First Coast, as I give a talk on one of Florida’s first “orange barons.” His name was Jesse Fish, a unique character in St. Augustine history. In the 1770s he sold as many as 60,000 oranges to merry old England to feed the need for the exotic, and most importantly, the cocktail craze at the time. If you attend, you’ll get to try a cocktail based on what they might have been drinking, along with some modern nibbles to satiate your appetite.

Florida's Exotic Fruit: Our Orange Legacy, jonathan pielmayer

Fish stood between worlds–the New World of the United States, Britain, and Spain–a Florida man to his very core, and everything that implies. Though he was a British citizen on paper, his loyalties were decidedly local and monetary in nature. He married late, to a much younger and wilder woman with a tendency to stray. Oranges and his El Vergel estate on Anastasia Island were an escape from his problems, and a way out of mounting debt.

My book comes out in September of this year, and this talk on Jesse Fish is the result of regret. Regret that there was only so much space to tell the story of Florida oranges and the people who grew them. Here, I can go more in depth on a fascinating character–a smuggler, sometime recluse, sometime gregarious dealmaker, cuckold, opportunist, businessman, and accused spy who rose to be the largest private landowner in Florida, and died nearly destitute.

This event (Feb 21st), hosted by GastroJax and the Museum of Science and History, is part of the lead up to GastroFest (March 23), a festival celebrating food and beverage here on the First Coast.

Along with the talk, historical cocktail, and light hors d’oeuvres, you can enjoy the Sunshine State Orange Crunch Cake from Chef Dennis Chan of Blue Bamboo and grand prize winner of the Pillsbury Doughboy and General Mills’ Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest. Guests will enjoy two complimentary drinks and a tour of MOSH’s newest traveling exhibition, Backyard Adventures. The doors will open at 6:30pm on February 21st. Guests are invited to mingle and grab light refreshments. The program will begin at 7pm. $25 per person. Go to https://904tix.com/events/orange-legacy to get your tickets.


About Erin Thursby