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More Stories - The Way We Were
Maybe I'm just bored easily, or perhaps I enjoy a challenge, but one of the things I prize most about Miami is its tremendous diversity. This includes not only its peoples, languages, wildlife and flora, and even its weather (usually), but especially its wide range of ethnic and native foods.
At nine years old I first visited Florida to see my grandmother who had moved down a few years before. Leaving from New York, my baby brother Nathan Williamson came down with German measles in Virginia. It began to rain drearily going into Georgia and as we crossed the state line into Florida at dusk. It was late and we were exhausted by the time we arrived south of Tampa. The next morning we walked outside into bright sunshine for our first real glimpse of the state. Right by the door was a huge tangerine tree, laden with juicy sweet tree-ripened fruit as well as fragrant blooms; a Christmas treat in the summertime.
Some of my strongest memories of that visit were new tastes; guava jelly on toast, coconut candy, crab cakes made with crabs fresh-caught from Tampa bay, creamy lobster salad made from Florida lobsters, southern fried chicken and my first taste of real southern biscuits to mop up the chicken gravy, sweet potato pie, orange blossom honey, palm heart salad, fried okra, collard greens cooked with fatback, crowder peas, pecan candy, smoked mullet; and of course in the morning white grits with butter, thick salty bacon, fried eggs and freshly squeezed orange juice. My grandmother Ellen Church Williamson, always thrifty, had canned quite a lot of guava jelly, guava shells and guava sauce (like applesauce), orange marmalade, tomatoes, corn and other local vegetables, and fresh black eyed peas. The first time I was served these little black and beige morsels, I asked my grandmother, "Did you know you burned the beans?" Well, I still think they are an acquired taste, one which I'm still working on acquiring.
Our variety is spotlighted by About.com's food feature, Florida Cuisine. Diana Rattray writes:
In actuality, Ms. Rattray has only scratched the surface of our diversity in her article. At one time or another as fortunes changed or wars waged in the old world, significantly large colonies of Scots, Greeks, Poles, Italians, Jamaicans, Chinese, Koreans, Thai, Estonians, Armenians, new-world Dominicans, Panamanians, the ones Ms. Rattray mentions and many others settled in Florida, and as they blended into the culture, they each brought to it their own dietary influences. Ethnic restaurants abound; in Southeast Florida alone, one could eat one's way from one side of the world to the other and back within easy driving distance. Try the Low Country Chicken Pilau or Orange-Cranberry Pork Chops
Also featured are links to other sites that feature Florida ingredients. One such interesting link is the Florida Citrus Commission's recipes. This site offers the best of foods which include tangy grapefruit, limes, lemons and oranges from Florida in the list of ingredients. Another is the Ultimate Citrus website, with more interesting recipes using Florida fruit.
One of our favorite Florida recipes is Ybor City Black Bean Soup, similar to that done by the Colombia Restaurant, but with healthy and flavorful additions. Another is a Cuban-Chinese version of Fried Rice, served with fried ripe plantains on the side; naturally we cut the calories from the original on this one.
If you can't come to Florida personally, at least explore and enjoy our foods.