story.jpg (2302 bytes)
Index  Page 1  2  3  4  5  6
More Stories - The Way We Were

Florida Cuisine

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's food feature, Florida Cuisine.   Diana Rattray writes:

" Florida cuisine is probably one of the most unique and diverse in the world. The rich exchange of multicultural cuisines began when Ponce de Leˇn first staked a claim for Spain in 1513.  Early Native American, Spanish, and European styles were significantly influenced by ingredients and flavors brought by the Africans in the sixteenth century, and by early Anglo-American settlers from regions north of Florida.

Through the years, Florida's basic Spanish and Southern cuisines have continued to blend with a wide range of cultures. Minorcans used the native datil peppers to flavor their sauces and pilaus, and in the early 1900s many Jewish restaurants sprang up as Jewish communities grew.

People moving in from the northern states developed new ways to use guavas, fresh seafood, wild ginger, and countless other locally grown foods. In 1959, the first of several migrations of Cuban refugees added yet another new cuisine. Cuban sandwich shops, black beans, and arroz con pollo became commonplace.

Bahamians, Haitians, Nicaraguans, Vietnamese, and many more ethnic groups continue to influence the local flavors, making it one of the country's most interesting regional cuisines."

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.

The Sneaky Kitchen
Web Site by Bess W. Metcalf   Copyrightę April 1999 - 201

& Stanley Products