Sweet Spot

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Eilon Paz

Every morning from September to May, men like José Antonio Pañapiel (shown) arrive to pick grapefruit in the groves along the Indian River on Florida's Treasure Coast. Citrus has grown in Florida, according to Rebecca Rickey of the Indian River Citrus Museum, since the 16th century, when sailors were required by Spanish law to carry 100 orange seeds each to cast to the winds near coastlines. The vitamin C—rich fruit the seeds bore prevented scurvy, a common affiction of seafaring explorers. From these seedlings, Native Americans spread the citrus around the state. Indian River's commercial crop started when settler Douglas Dummitt was lured here in the early 1800s by the scent of oranges while sailing down the coast. Around the same time, a French count named Odette Phillipe brought grapefruit to Florida from the Caribbean. It thrived in the area's wet, warm climate and sandy limestone soil. Elliptical, with a smooth, thin pith, Indian River grapefruit are heavier than those from other places because they contain more juice, which is at its sweetest when grapefruit reach their peak ripeness in March.