More Florida Family Heirloom Notes from Linnie:
(Florida is a very unique situation for African American Foodways and culture. Some of the first Africans in North America arrived at St. Augustine. Florida was a place where many enslaved people were imported to and a place where many ran to for freedom from the Carolina and Georgia Lowcountry to Fort Mose. Subtropical, palm studded and rich in wildlife and fish, Florida was much like many parts of coastal West and Central Africa. When the Creeks and Mikasuki began to coalesce into the Seminole Nation, many enslaved Africans joined the Seminole and moved further and further into the deep glades of the central and southern parts of the state. Beyond that, planters and small time white farmers moved into the northern part of the state following statehood from the Carolinas and Georgia, some establishing grand plantation, others small landholdings. As mentioned in previous posts, field peas, varities of sweet potatoes, rice, tomatoes, hot peppers, watermelons, sesame, peanuts and greens were by then common to both Black and white tables in the Lower South. Africanization of the American diet was complete in this region. Along with Afro-Caribbean influences from the 16th through the 20th centuries, the Florida connections between African, Spanish, British, American, and Native American have been full, fluid, and powerfully illustrative of the exotic corners of the American foodscape. I WILL BE VISITING KINGSLEY PLANTATION IN NORTHERN FLORIDA AS PART OF THE SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT TOUR! I WILL REAPPEAR THERE AT THEIR FESTIVAL IN THE FALL TO DO HISTORIC COOKING! WE HAVE ONLY THIRTY DAYS LEFT TO SUPPORT THE COOKING GENE TOUR: PLEASE SEE—http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Cooking-Gene-Project-The-Southern-Discomfort-Tour
Oh, do not worry about the “Florida Cracker” name tag. I am proud to wear it. When I feel a little weathered and worn, I go to our family cemetery at Jennings Lake and just walk around and think (and Thank) of all those folks who came before me to make their living in a wilderness, raised their families and died there. They were a tough bunch of people. Mostly Scotch-Irish, English, German heritage who came here in the very early days of the colonies. They are both early pioneer families, who lived much the same. They were very self sufficient people who actually lived very simply. They were lucky if they had any education other than what they learned from their families. Actually, I think they were well educated, just not in a formal way. These were definitely not the “Rhett and Scarlett” type of people. We still teach our kids how to live off the land when need be, but we are not ‘dooms-dayers”.
To this day, most of our meat and fish are fresh out of the woods and water. We still eat venison, pork, turkey, fish from fresh and salt water and lots of home grown veggies. Never had to eat a gopher tortoise, possum, armadillo, racoon or bear. So I guess we never were all that hungry. ( I do have some hand written Cajun cookbooks with some pretty crazy recipes for such critters.)
I grew up in Gilchrist county in rural North Central Florida. We are close to the rivers and Gulf of Mexico. Favorite fresh water fish are Red Bellies and Bass. Salt water favorites are red fish and mullet. Salt and Pepper them, roll them in self raising corn meal and fry in hot veg oil until crispy brown. ( To tell if the oil is hot enough, drop in an unlit safety match. If oil is hot enough the match will light and go out. This will not set fire to your pan). I still use a heavy iron skillet to fry fish, bake corn bread and brown meat. It just can’t be beat by anything Emeril or Martha can come up with. Hush puppies go with fish. I make small batch of these by using about a cup of meal ,a little flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder, two eggs and buttermilk. Let batter sit a while and stir again just before frying. This lets the cornmeal take up the buttermilk and enhances to texture of the hushpuppy. Drop by the rounded teaspoon full into hot oil. If hush puppy browns on one side then flips over by itself the batter is just right. Grits and cole slaw complete this meal. No, I have not found a way to take the calories out, so we don’t eat this way very oftern. Swamp cabbage is also a favorite to go with fish. I think the “crackers” must have picked this up from the indians, because it seems to be a Florida dish. I will share how I cook swamp cabbage with you another time if you will remind me.
As you have noticed. most traditional Southern meals were designed to keep people fit to work with whatever you could find to feed them. A really good Southern cook can make a meal from her kitchen without a trip to the store. She can make do with “whatever” is available.
My kids are down in Florida right now visiting their grandparents (my folks) who have a condo on the Gulf Coast near Boca Grande which is a fancy little resort island with an interesting history. I was telling my 12-year-old son stories about my grandmother who used to take us there when I was visiting Florida as a child. She would always talk about the “colored” people who lived in railroad housing on the end of the island…she was fairly typical, I suppose, of the attitudes of whites of her time. She seemed sort of obsessed and fascinated by “colored” people, but had a racist attitude of “otherness” that I didn’t really “get” on a deeper level as a child (growing up in a largely white college town in Oregon with politically liberal parents, I didn’t have much first-hand experience with blatant racism). She would say things like “there were so many cats wandering around, those people had so many cats!”. Those people. Those people also took care of her house, and did many other things for her, and even though she had a certain disdain, or feeling of separateness from people with darker skin, she went ahead and gave away all her family heirloom antique furniture (much to my mother’s horror) to “the colored girl” who cleaned her house for years. I guess it was a different time and place than I am familiar with, but it captures my imagination, and it is not a legacy I feel too comfortable with. I just read this interesting little article about Boca Grande…http://www.bocagrandetalk.com/page/content.detail/id/509080/-Growing-up-Black-in-Boca-Grande–was-no-problem.html?nav=5047