Friday, June 27, 2014

Of haw jelly and cassava pancakes

****Recipes in this blog post are for historical interest only.****

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I can focus on a small treasure of a cookbook, a bicentennial edition published in 1968. Yes, eight years earlier than the 1976 Bicentennial the rest of us remember. But for New Smyrna (Beach), 1968 was indeed a bicentennial year. The coastal city was settled in 1768 in what is believed to have been the largest British colonization attempt in the then-New World. 

You can access Smyrna colony textual documents at the University of North Florida's Florida History Online, and I highly recommend a stop at the New Smyrna Museum of History next time you're in the area. It's run by the Southeast Volusia Historical Society, which in 1995 issued a reprint of the 1968 Keepsake Recipes of New Smyrna, Bicentennial Edition. The cookbook is the focus of this blog post soon as I stop rambling about New Smyrna Beach. I lived there for seven years, and have a soft spot for it.

The New Smyrna Junior Woman's Club published the original edition of the book. Many residents who contributed recipes had local roots far back into the 19th century. The women shared a number of pioneer culinary treats, including the haw jelly and cassava pancakes of this post's title. Eileen H. Butts contributed both those recipes, and she has this to say about the pancakes: "A most wonderfully different taste delight." Hmmm. Maybe, but after reading the recipe I'm not so sure I'd be willing to try them out:
Grate the fresh cassava root. Soak for a couple of hours in salted water. Squeeze out water. Stir grated pulp in any good pancake batter.
However, they do sound a tad more appealing than the Golden Cattail Pancakes recipe, which calls for a cup of cattail pollen.

The haw jelly sounds delicious, and Eileen notes that, "There is no jelly in all the world more beautiful - a lovely rose color and nothing else has the delicate haw flavor." Berries of the Florida native hawthorn are hard to come by, and people who know where haws are growing tend to keep mighty quiet about it. I've traipsed around a lot of Florida and  have yet to encounter the plants. Consider yourself lucky if you come across some "summer haws," the kind transformed into the jewel-tone jelly of the recipe. 

After the work of finding the main ingredient, the rest of the recipe is equally demanding. It calls for the cook to wash the haws, "pick over carefully" and then boil them until they burst. The hot pulp is placed into a jelly bag and set aside until all the juice has dripped out. Only then does the cook proceed with typical jelly-making steps of boiling the mixture with sugar until the jell stage is reached. 

Finally, there's a note that if haws are in scant supply, a "very few" green apples may be added at the juice-making stage.

After all that, a recipe for Orange Leaf Tea is a breeze.  Contributer Mary Elizabeth (Mrs. Walter M.) Pace instructs the cook to first search for tender young leaves of an orange tree. Then, "bring water to a slow boil, add leaves, cooking slowly several minutes." And that's it. Done. Sweeten to taste if you wish. 

Essentials of living often served double and triple duty in pioneer homesteads, and Orange Leaf Tea fits in that category. Mrs. Pace ends her tea recipe by advising: "Good for breaking fever and bring out the measles." I may try the tea for its taste - it does sound yummy - but on matters of ill health I'll defer to modern medicine. With a dose of tea for good measure. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pedaling the faith

A big thanks to archivist Sister Catherine Bitzer and the Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine, for material she shared about Catholic life on the frontier. The information in Brief History of the Churches of the Diocese of St. Augustine Florida stretches the boundaries of my 19th century focus by up to eight years, but is too interesting to overlook.

St. Peter, 1908. Archives of the Diocese of St. Augustine
At the turn of the 20th century, a chunk of land 100 miles by 40 miles comprised Florida East Coast mission field. The Rev. Michael J. Curley covered the area by bicycle and rail. Fr. Curley was the first resident pastor of St. Peter's in DeLand, which was without a resident pastor from 1883 to the early 1900s. (Yes, St. Peter is my parish and I know my first two Pioneer Catholic posts are related to it. I'll expand soon!)

It's hard to think about Florida - fourth most populous U.S. state - as once being mission territory. But the archival literature references Fr. Curley as a missionary priest who pedaled and pushed his bicycle for hours from DeLand to New Smyrna, where he got on the train. That's a good 20 to 25 miles. He then pedaled some more, between stations along the coast.

Clergy were spread thin in frontier Florida, and persevered amid challenges. There wasn't a resident priest from Daytona south to Palm Beach. The Rev. Michael F. Foley of Baltimore spent a good portion of 1885 to 1893 ministering to DeLand and surrounding areas, despite being in "broken-down health." After he left, the Rev. John O'Brien of Palatka came to DeLand once a month to offer Mass. Fr. Curley arrived in 1904.  A diocesan missionary priest named the Rev. P.J. Bresnahan helped spread the Gospel in "DeLand's vast mission field," as the entire Central East area was called, but I'm not sure how long he stayed after his 1906 efforts. Fr. Curley, described as zealous, devoted the second Sunday of each month to the missions.

Concurrent with mission work, a structured worship schedule took form in the growing DeLand parish. Here's a look at the program in about 1906:
  • Sundays, November to May:  High Mass with sermon in morning; Rosary, sermon, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in the evening
  • Sundays, June to October: Low Mass with sermon, followed by Benediction, in morning
  • Way of the Cross on Fridays in Lent
  • First Friday "faithfully observed"
  • Sunday School "never omitted"
By this time, 20+ years had passed since Catholics and non-Catholics in DeLand worked together to build and furnish St Peter's Church. They did it again,  in 1906-1908, to erect a rectory and enlarge the church.  Brief History states with pleasure that "... many non-Catholics contributed very generously." The South hasn't always been kind to Catholicism. The good feeling of the ecumenism lingers across the decades.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Home on the trail

I just got back from the annual work retreat, where my department was held captive for a few days of team-building and productivity. This year, our location was the lakefront Future Farmers of America Leadership Training Center in south central Florida. The parklike complex is in rural farm and ranch country on the Lake Wales Ridge. The main lodge had copies of Polk County's agriculture magazine, In the Field, in which cattlemen's association news figures prominently. It got me thinking about how deeply intertwined cattle ranching and Florida are.

Bartow cattle drive. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
A lot of information is available about the history of Florida ranching and cattle drives - numbers, dates, controversies, leaders, etc. I had to dig to find details about how cowhands ate on the trail. It's kind of a stretch to fit this topic into "Home Life," but if you think about it, the trail really was a type of home - particularly in the 19th century when drives conducted on horseback lasted weeks.

Dana Ste. Claire, in his book, Cracker: The Cracker Culture in Florida History (Museum of Arts and Sciences, 1998), surprisingly includes canned tomatoes among typical trail cuisine such as bacon, grits, sweet potatoes, cornbread and coffee. He also mentions how fried meat might be packed into tins, and then covered with hot fat for preservation. Not so yum, if you ask me. Both Ste. Claire and Jim Bob Tinsley's Florida Cow Hunter: The Life and Times of Bone Mizell (University of Central Florida Press, 1990), note how a cow or steer might be butchered, salted and smoked at the start of a roundup or drive. Ideally, meals were prepared at a chuck wagon, but the wagons couldn't always reach cowboys on roundups when they tracked cattle across wetlands. The workers had to carry rations in those cases. Food might include syrup cookies that they'd brought from home, and whatever game they hunted.

Home on the trail required resourcefulness. Obviously, on a drive, cowboys slept on the ground. But Florida is famous for its rains. Tinsley writes how, it wet season, cowmen dug parallel trenches, heaped the dirt in the middle, and piled palmetto fans atop the dirt. That became a bed.

One final note: A fascinating example of pioneer ingenuity is in Joe A. Akerman Jr. and J. Mark Akerman's book, Jacob Summerlin, King of the Crackers (Florida Historical Society Press, 2004): Black jack oak provided a salt substitute if the tree was cut green, burned, and left overnight so that a crust would form. The crust had to be scraped off the next morning before the dew dried.


Monday, June 9, 2014

From hominy to ham with champagne sauce

One defining factor of much early Florida life-writing is socioeconomic. Only wealthier and/or educated tourists and settlers had time and ability to leave behind records of their day-to-day life. And the hotels and other businesses that catered to them churned out promotional literature. So we often don't learn what regular folk had for dinner in pioneer households. But we know a lot about, say, the 11-course meals served at places like Ponce de Leon Hotel in St. Augustine and Tampa Bay Hotel in Tampa. The two were rival establishments that, for a time, represented the ultimate in elegance in late 1800s Florida. Some guests stayed for the season and considered the hotels their winter homes.

Plant Museum brochure and reprint of historical brochure
An interesting side note: Both majestic former hotels are now centerpieces of well-regarded colleges, Flagler College in St. Augustine, and University of Tampa on Florida's west coast. At Tampa, a portion of the historic hotel structure houses the Henry  B. Plant Museum, well worth the visit. In St. Augustine, Lightner Museum - another former hotel - is directly across the street from the college, and is also a must-see.

Credit: 2012 El Scribano, page 33
We can be fairly sure neither modern dining hall is offering the type of cuisine hotel guests expected back in the day. The 2012 issue of El Scribano, the St. Augustine Historical Society's journal of Florida history, has a really interesting article by society research library Chief Librarian Robert Nawrocki about kitchen operations at Ponce de Leon Hotel. Included is a detailed look at the 11 courses served for dinner on Jan. 31, 1893, the height of the winter season. I'm fascinated by the mix of mundane food and haute cuisine on the menu. Patrons could have hominy or stewed tomatoes with their Granadine of Lamb, a la Soubise. Everyday fruits (bananas, raisins) and nuts were rolled out after people feasted on macaroons and Baba au Rhum.


The scope of the menu surprises, and I wonder how people ate so much. Judging from old photos, obesity wasn't a problem back then. I've heard diners ate sparingly of each serving in order to survive multiple courses. Which makes me wonder what happened to the leftovers. Were the local hungry fed? Were servants allowed to take home the extra food? Was it composted? Fed to backyard animals? Official records, at least the ones I've run across, are silent on these details. The people who knew were too busy working to sit down and write about it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Growing citrus on offal, castor beans and cotton seed

I found a gem a few weeks ago when browsing the Florida section of duPont-Ball Library: a 98-page 1961 master's thesis titled The History of Citrus in Mount Dora, Florida, to 1900, by Martha Stokley Arterburn. I seem to have been the first to check out the volume since 1991.

Martha's research included interviews with family members of early growers, and their memories had an immediacy based on proximity. In 1961, pioneer days were still part of the not-too-distant past. Kind of like interviewing someone today about World War II or life in midcentury America.

Seems to me citrus trees grew larger in the 19th century, at least in this part of the state. Old photos like this one of DeLand horticulturist Lue Gim Gong in his grove attest to what Martha notes on page 10 of her thesis: the trees towered over people. She was told they could reach 30 feet.
Credit? I've seen this photo both at West Volusia Historical Society and at FloridaMemory.com
Citrus was fertilized with cottonseed meal, a very smelly bone meal,  castor bean "pumace," dead animals (buried), offal like discarded organs from an animal butchered for food, and "ground flesh" - not sure I want to know more. Makes me appreciate my packaged organic fertilizer. Martha reports that the fertilizer was placed between the trees and plowed in along with a cover crop, which was anything that happened to be growing there.

Not everyone adopted that early version of organic growing. She notes that an 1888 letter writer told the Florida Farmer and Fruit-Grower he used sulphate of potash, phosphoric acid, and magnesia with ammonia on his grove.

There are enough tidbits in Martha's thesis to write several blog posts, and I may return to it later. But for now I want to mention one more thing.  It's the small-world phenomenon, and maybe frontier Florida was a small world. One of Martha's interview subjects was Barney Dillard Jr., who shared his citrus expertise. Any fan of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings knows that Florida pioneer Barney Dillard Sr. shared folklore and hunting tales with the writer in the 1930s. The material helped shape the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Yearling. Rawlings had a couple of thousand citrus trees on her property at Cross Creek. I wonder what she used for fertilizer.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Four families grow into a parish

Florida has a deep-rooted Catholic history that dates to the 1500s. But much of the peninsula was mission territory in the late 1800s. My parish, St. Peter Catholic Church, was no exception. In the early 1880s, it was a mission of the church in Palatka, a riverfront city almost 60 miles away. That was a daunting distance in days when roads were sandy ruts and horsepower had four legs.

A wonderful parish history in the St. Peter's archives tells the story of the earliest Catholic settlers. The typed document is an example of the locally written parish histories stored in offices and archives of faith communities everywhere. They are rich sources of local histories and deserve digital preservation and wider dissemination.

"Mrs. Charles Paiva, Historian," wrote the St. Peter Church parish history. She credits a Miss Emily Brady "who kept track of church history as it happened." Please leave a comment if you know Mrs. Paiva's first name. I'd love to add it here.

(Photo courtesy St. Peter Catholic Church)
The first Catholic Church in DeLand could seat 60 people.

The history relates how Fr. Willliam J. Kenny said the first Mass in DeLand on June 7, 1883, in the Kilkoff home, which still stands on West New York Avenue. Four families were in attendance - Kilkoff, Dreka, Ziegler and Fisher.  Less than a year later, a small Catholic church was constructed near the center of town. On April 19, 1884, Fr. Kenny offered Mass in the new chapel, pictured on this page. The next day, April 20, Right Rev. John Moore, bishop of St. Augustine, dedicated the parish "to the service of God under the patronage of St. Peter."

An interesting detail emerges from the chronicle about that long-ago day, and it bears hearing in our modern era of religious strife and intolerance. "Members spoke of it as a joyous occasion and spoke of generous help given by non-Catholic friends," writes Mrs. Paiva. The organ was a portable melodeon on loan from a local Methodist. And, "... members of other faiths" - formed the choir that sang the High Mass. Remember, it was all in Latin then. 

A year later, the parish had 13 families. Today, it has about 3,000 families. The first little chapel accommodated 60 people. Over the years it was enlarged, and finally replaced. The current church, on the same property, was built in the 1960s.