Friday, December 30, 2016

Sweet recipe for sweet potatoes

prepared sweet potatoes in a side dish
Easy to make and tasty to eat! This is the adapted recipe.
(If you're here for the recipe and not the blog post, skip right down to the end of the post!)

Recently, I read that some Hastings potato-chip farmers are diversifying into sweet potatoes. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences article called the tubers a re-emerging crop. I never realized sweet potatoes had vanished from the state's farms. A weevil caused the industry's demise about 30 years ago.

The crop was a standard item during pioneer years. One old history book talks of the famous "Forty to a Hill" sweet potato venture established commercially in Alachua County in 1891. Specifically, in tiny Waldo, which has a population today of about 1,000.

I didn't quite get 40 sweet potatoes out of the one I planted last spring, but it was a healthy harvest. The taters were tender and yummy, and cultivation was minimal. Actually, I was kind of surprised at the result. My husband and I were experimenting when we planted one potato in an old recycling bucket filled with a mix of oak leaves and pine straw. You see the results in the photo of the harvest. We did little except incorporate organic fertilizer into the soil-less mix when planting, and then water during dry spells.

Ease of cultivation helped make the tasty tuber a nutritional staple for pioneer settlers. In a letter to the Florida Agriculturist newspaper in 1892, one poor newcomer to the state bemoaned that "I am so tender that I even don't know how to grow sweet potatoes." He was ashamed to admit it.

photo of hands holding up a harvested bunch of sweet potatoes
We were surprised at the sweet potato harvest.
The editors obliged him with cultivation information. But the advice included a suggestion to add tobacco stems to the soil to provide potash. Wonder how that worked out. Elsewhere in the same issue another reader wrote that sweet potatoes cost 70 to 80 cents a bushel that year.

After our big harvest, we let the tubers cure for a couple of weeks and started to feast on them - plain except for butter added to the cooked potatoes. But who can resist sweeter sweet potatoes during the holidays? For Christmas dinner, I made Orange Sweet Potatoes that were a big hit. The preparation is super simple.

My recipe is adapted from one by a cook named Elsa Wiedemann. Hers is featured in Treasured Recipes, the 1983 cookbook published by the Guild of the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach.

The differences from the original recipe is my addition of maple syrup when reheating, and one change in preparation. If you cook the dish the night before, the sauce thickens on its own in the refrigerator overnight. It stays nice and creamy when reheated. (The original recipe calls for the sauce to be boiled down to a thick consistency on the stovetop after the potatoes are cooked and removed.)

If you think about it, either version could easily have been made by a pioneer Florida cook. Except she or he likely would have used cane syrup as the sweetener.

You don't need to wait until a holiday to make this. Enjoy!

ORANGE SWEET POTATOES WITH MAPLE SYRUP
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
Dash salt
1/3 cup real maple syrup, or more to taste

Pare the sweet potatoes, slice thickly, and place in saucepan. Add all other ingredients except the maple syrup. Bring to a boil and let simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool and store in microwaveable container. Chill overnight in refrigerator. Before reheating, stir in the maple syrup. Reheat and serve.

Photo of a printed recipe page from a cookbook
Here's the original recipe if you'd like to try it, too.




'

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The man in 'Ellis' Garden'


Cover of the Songs of the Settlement CD
This double CD of Americana-folk
music is a fundraiser for the Pioneer
Settlement for the Creative Arts.
A song on the new Songs of the Settlement folk-music CD sent me scrambling for one of my old journalism clips. It was a bittersweet journey, well worth taking.

The Americana/folk-music double CD was created by multiple singer-songwriters as a fundraiser for Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts. Regular readers know I'm a fan - and a member - of the living-history museum that resembles an old Florida town. My fiction is set in pioneer Florida, and the Pioneer Settlement showcases that era and way of life.

Disclaimer aside, let's get back to the CD. I bought my copy at the Fall Country Jamboree last month, with full expectation of liking the songs because I like Americana music. What I didn't expect to find was Lauren Heintz's song "Ellis' Garden." It's a beautiful ballad about a man who once tended the large garden at the Settlement with the knowledge and dedication gained from a lifetime of living close to the land. The poetic song captures the essence of that gardener - whose full name was Ellis Price and whom I met and interviewed for a newspaper article in 1993.

Image of newspaper article by Gerri Bauer about gardener Ellis Price
I wrote this article about Ellis Price for
the West Volusia 'New Volusian' section
of the Daytona Beach News-Journal
in 1993. 
The resulting article is pictured here, but I'd like to quote a part that still resonates with me:
"Price spends most of his days plowing, cultivating or harvesting crops from soil that ranges from a sandy loam to the rich muck of a reclaimed lake bottom. He guesses he would tend the garden at night, too, but for the lack of light. But never on Sunday. And, sometimes, not when the fish are biting. 'My buddy says for every day you take off for fishing, the Lord gives you an extra day,' Price said ..."
At the time of our interview, Ellis had been growing produce for 60 years, since he was a child in the 1920s. He had first-hand knowledge of early Florida ways, and applied a blend of old and new approaches to his gardening - using hand tools at the Settlement, but tilling with a tractor at home. He always planted by the moon's phases, just as his father had done.

Old cultivars that rated high on Ellis' list included zipper cream peas and running conch peas. He also grew beans, greens, tomatoes, okra, sugar cane, pickling cucumbers, cotton, and corn. The corn was the hybrid sweet 'Silver Queen,' which I believe was the cultivar of Zellwood fame years ago.

The song "Ellis' Garden" closes by saying the Settlement isn't the same since Ellis is no longer with us. I thank Lauren Heintz for returning him, if only briefly. The artistry of the ballad's three minutes tumbled me back nearly a quarter-century. How well I  remember the bright spring day I and photographer Kelly Jordan met with Ellis Price at the Settlement garden. Time slowed for a few hours. And goes by much too fast today.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cracker architecture a native style

photo of 1912 Cracker-style house at Manatee Village Historical Park
The Old Settler's House is at Manatee Village Historical Park
in Bradenton. The website says this 1912 house has been
called 'Cracker Gothic' in style.
The calendar says November, but everyone in Florida knows late autumn can have as many toasty days as cool ones. Warm weather is year-round here. That's one reason for the development of the vernacular architectural style known as Florida Cracker. Such homes were designed to fit within their environment and help residents live comfortably in a challenging climate.

The word Cracker as it applies in Florida can refer to a lifestyle, customs, group of people, food, and, yes, architecture. It's the style of building constructed by many pioneer settlers. Cracker houses were wood-frame structures that made use of  Florida's abundant natural resources. Heart pine was particularly durable and readily available in the longleaf pine forests that blanketed the state.

The houses almost without exception featured long, deep porches with extended roofs. Some buildings had detached kitchens to prevent fire and heat from affecting other rooms. And some houses featured what was known as a dog trot. A dog trot was an open passageway situated at the center of the house. The passageway was covered by the roof and porch, and interior rooms opened onto it. The design helped air flow through.

To learn about Cracker architecture from an expert, I recommend you read Classic Cracker, Florida's Wood-Frame Vernacular Architecture, a 1992 Pineapple Press book by architect Ronald W. Haase. The book is informative and filled with photos.

Living-history museums throughout Florida feature restored Cracker homesteads open for tours and self-guided visits. Until you have time to walk through one yourself, enjoy this video from the History of Central Florida Podcast Series:


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

'Walk Florida' history, by app

handing holding smartphone open to Florida Stories app
The app puts history in your hands. Photo credit: GooglePlay
I'm all for reading and writing about Florida history ... but a new (to me) app has me excited about listening, too. The Florida Stories project of the Florida Humanities Council allows you to "stroll through history." You take walking tours while listening to audio vignettes that stream via the app.

But, hey, this is an app we're talking about. While waiting for it to download to my phone, I listened to some of the sample audios on the Florida Stories webpage - without being anywhere near the featured locales. Except for the one about DeLand Hall, which I could practically see from my window at the time.

The recent addition of a DeLand Walking Tour was my introduction to the app. Ideally, you listen to the narration while walking and getting close-up views of the featured buildings and learning about the people and culture associated with them. But it's going to be a while, for example, before I get back to Pensacola - some eight hours away by car. So I look forward to enjoying the Walk: Pensacola segments while walking around the block or sitting and enjoying the scenery in my yard. I also look forward to additions of more tours to Florida Stories.

A DeLand tour was recently added to
the app. Photo credit:
Florida Humanities Council
Most of all, I'm thrilled about this mobile avenue for sharing the wealth of historical information that is found in Florida. Too often, the state's history is overshadowed by theme parks, cruise ships, and beaches. All fun in their own way. Yet all built, in their own way, on everything that came before.

Happy listening!

Download the app from Apple's iTunes and Google Play

Saturday, October 29, 2016

What celebrity looked like in 1888

vintage portrait of Frances Folsom Cleveland from about 1886
Frances Folsom Cleveland in a photo
from 1886. Credit: Library of Congress
I can't let election season pass without writing about President Grover Cleveland's campaign visit to Florida in 1888. Or, more specifically, Mrs. Grover Cleveland's trip to Florida. The First Lady was the superstar of her time.

The nation's top newspapers all reported on the journey, according to Presidential Visits to Florida: Grover Cleveland 1888, an ebook by author Ray Osborne which I unearthed only in Google Books. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Harper's Weekly, among other publications, kept close tabs on the presidential entourage.

A good part of the interest focused on the president's wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland. She was young and fashionable and a major celebrity of her day. The newspapers "reported on his visit and with a fascination with his new young wife..." Osborne writes. She was so popular that young women nationwide copied her hairstyles, her clothing, and even the poses she used when being photographed, says the National First Ladies Library website. In my second novel, Stitching A Life in Persimmon Hollow, my heroine is one of these awestruck young women who can't believe she might get to see the First Lady on the Florida tour. (Yes, a shameless plug!)

A 21-gun salute heralded the Clevelands as they made their way to the Sub-Tropical Exposition in Jacksonville that long-ago day in February 1888. Locals staged a parade, VIPS gave speeches, and a crowd of thousands showed its enthusiasm. "A perfect tempest of cheering and clapping hands erupted" when Mrs. Cleveland stepped to the podium upon the request of the crowd, Osborne notes. "Five thousand throats cheered and greeted her."

The Feb. 23, 1888 issue of the Palatka Daily News even quotes the First Lady in a sub-head. "Mrs. Cleveland says it is no wonder people flock down here every winter for our delightful climate," the paper proclaims. The article gushes, telling how she alighted from the train "with the gracefulness of a fawn," and making note of her "pretty sylphlike figure." I kid you not. Military guards were needed to keep back the hordes at the evening reception for the Clevelands at St. James Hotel.

The newspaper did include a reprint of the president's Exposition speech, and listings of every locally important person and organization participating in the day's events. A visit by a presidential couple was a big deal in that pre-everything era - no Internet, no social media, no video, no cell phones, no television, no radio, no endless loops of replays in countless media.

If you think about it, the First Lady's popularity was an amazing thing - it happened without all the tools that accompany celebrity status today. She was a brand before personal brands existed.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Hurricanes before The Weather Channel

Painting of a palm tree blowing in a hurricane
This Federal Art Project painting of a Miami hurricane was
created by Robert W. Burke. Photo credit: Florida Memory
With Hurricane Matthew a fresh memory, what else can I write about but stormy weather? We had time to prepare: we boarded up windows, removed or secured yard items, stocked up on supplies, and prepared evacuation kits in hopes we wouldn't need them. Then we watched The Weather Channel and local TV forecasters until the power went out.

Imagine not having warning systems. If there's any bright side to a hurricane, the advance forecast has to be it. Pioneers didn't have such a luxury. In Florida's Hurricane History (University of North Carolina Press, 1998; newer editions have been issued since then), author Jay Barnes writes that "Early hurricanes usually barreled ashore without warning, often with dire consequences." (32)

Barnes explains how early residents watched cloud formations, sunrise colors, and animal and insect behavior for signs of approaching bad weather. Behavior was said to include:
  • a cat's nervous tail twitching
  • wandering livestock
  • shorebirds gathered together
  • bees returning to a hive
  • low-flying swallows, bats, geese, and ducks
Barnes points out that such "questionable forecasting methods" weren't much help. What did help was the scientific research done by a Jesuit priest named Benito Viñes in Cuba. Barnes says Fr. Viñes was "the person who did the most to advance the early understanding of hurricanes ..." (33).

From the 1870s until his death in 1893, the Spanish priest studied the storms and created a warning system that relied on volunteer observers, ship reports, and storm alerts issued by horseback and telegraph. USA Today calls Fr. Viñes the hurricane priest in the headline of a 2014 article that features an audio interview about the scientist. I've embedded the file at the end of this post.

The U.S. Weather Bureau was formed in 1891. Four years later, in 1895, the Bradford County Telegraph in northern Florida featured an article about the department of agriculture's "new plan for the dissemination of hurricane warnings." The system consisted of steam vessels that would fly flags and blow whistles. Telegraphs also were used, but as the newspaper stated, only one line ran along the east coast "and in almost every hurricane communication is very soon destroyed."

Really, the 1895 system sounds similar to the one devised by Fr. Viñes. He deserves better name recognition. Here's a place to start:

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Flames lit more than a fire

One of the most famous post-fire photographs is this one
taken Oct. 1, 1886. (Photo credit: StetsonUniversity)
One hundred and thirty years ago this month - Sept. 27 to be exact - the new city of DeLand suffered a fire that scarred a two-block section of downtown. Afterwards, city leaders ruled that new business buildings had to be constructed of brick or stone. Thanks to that long-ago ruling, DeLand today has a nationally recognized historic downtown.

But this blog post is about the human drama of the fire, as recorded 90 years afterward in the 1976 Reflections, West Volusia County, 100 Years of Progress

For context, consider that the city fire department organized in 1885 consisted of horse-drawn "chemical engines" - a pumper and a hook-and-ladder wagon. Both were hand-operated. The town was proud of its department. Volunteer firemen marched, in uniform, in the 1885 Independence Day parade.

But the equipment was overwhelmed by the fierce fire that started in downtown's Wilcox Saloon at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 27, 1886. The chroniclers of Reflections say that:
Late at night, the fire literally exploded through the heart pine of the buildings. Soon guns were firing, dishpans beat and everybody yelling.
Imagine waking up to such an emergency. The fire lasted about two hours, and leveled 22 buildings in the business district between New York and Rich avenues. An estimated 33 stores were lost. Heroic efforts on townspeople's parts prevented even more destruction. Again, from Reflections:
The Carrolton Hotel at the southeast corner of New York and the Boulevard was saved by hanging blankets toward the fire and pouring water from a roof tank and the bucket brigade over them. Fishers Drug store on the southwest corner was about to burst into flame from the fierce heat of the Miller and Tanner livery stable and feed store on the northwest corner. Somebody thought of the carbonated water for the soda fountain. By spraying it from windows, the building was saved.
Local lore says that, by the time townspeople used the carbonated water, all other water resources had been exhausted. By the time daylight dawned, likely everyone in town was exhausted. But DeLand bounced back, stronger than before.

Still, 130 years later, some peripheral questions linger for me. Reflections includes a photo of the city's first fire brigade and notes that the volunteer firemen wore leftover Confederate Army uniforms. The city was settled by a mix of Northern, Midwestern, and Southern people, and I can't imagine Union Army veterans donning rebel garb. The war was only 20 years in the past for them. And how would such apparel make the area's former slaves and their descendants feel? Perhaps I'm guilty of assessing from a 21st century perspective. The 19th century minds struggling to build a new city may have operated from a sense of frugality. People back then likely wouldn't have wanted to waste functional clothing.

My other questions revolve around the people lugging buckets of water that terrible night of the fire. Did everyone help? Women and children as well as men? Did people with no stake in any downtown business rush in to help? What happened right after the fire?

That last question, at least, does have an answer. Unpleasant though it is.

In echoes of today's racial struggles and misunderstandings, the story of what happened after the fire is disheartening. The shocked populace turned fearful. They worried that people they termed the neighborhood's "disorderly negroes" would raid the destroyed town. The fear was unwarranted. Nothing happened.

Helen Parce DeLand - daughter of town founder Henry DeLand - wrote a 1928 city history that includes a section about the fire and its immediate aftermath. In The Story of DeLand and Lake Helen, Florida, she writes:
 "... for several days folks went armed in fear of disorder. These fears may have been groundless but all were obsessed by them."
Residents called on local cattlemen, who rode in to serve as patrols. Or, as Helen Parce DeLand writes:
"In their desperation they called on the cowmen from the woods and they quickly came galloping in with rifles unslung, looking for negroes to shoot at. Of course the negroes did not appear."
It sounds like a bad Western. Apparently tensions subsided, and the work of rebuilding commenced. But Parce's appendix - which is omitted from most versions of local history - reminds me how much narratives of the past are partial portraits that reflect the people doing the telling.

So what should we see when we peer back to September 1886? Heroic settlers united against a raging fire? Cracker cowboys looking for a fight? The voiceless African-American community whose history we don't have? Class, racial, regional tensions? Perhaps all of it. Like today.



Thursday, September 15, 2016

A mission to educate

old newspaper photo of St. Joseph's Academy
I saw this photo of a Catholic academy while browsing vintage Florida newspapers online, and was immediately intrigued. First, I was surprised, because the photo was part of a large ad telling of the virtues of the academy. Then my questions arose. Where was Loretto? What happened to the school? Why had I never heard of either?

Little did I expect that research would reveal a fascinating thread of Florida Catholic history.

Started as an educational initiative soon after the Civil War, the academy had evolved into a boarding school for boys by the time the ad was placed in the 1890s.  As the photo states, the school was situated in what was then the town of Loretto. The community was later swallowed by the giant city of Jacksonville, but it retains its named distinction today and is considered a neighborhood.

Loretto is adjacent to the historically significant Mandarin, now also a neighborhood. In fact, the other photo on this page is from an article that locates the St. Joseph's Church and school as being in Mandarin itself. This second photo is from a 1914 encyclopedic publication with the unwieldy title of The Catholic Church in the United States of America,Undertaken to Celebrate the Golden Jubilee of His Holiness, Pope Pius X. At the time, the mission of Mandarin was considered 13 miles south of Jacksonville. More interesting, the mission was first visited by a priest from St. Augustine in 1787. Florida wasn't yet Florida at that time. The land was under Spanish rule.

1914 photo of St. Joseph Church and school
The first church - I guess the first St. Jospeh's - was built in 1858, very early by Florida frontier standards. By that time, Florida was a U.S. state and the Mandarin Mission had suffered from pressure and resistance from non-Catholics. The congregation of St. Joseph's was smaller than it had been more than a half-century earlier. Fr. John Chambon's 1863 census reported 120 Catholics. In comparison, from 140 to 150 baptisms alone were performed during the six-year period between 1787 and 1793.

Fr. Chambon is considered the founder of the mission, but a Fr. de la Fosse of St. Augustine is credited with starting the school in 1868 with Sister Mary Julia and Sister Mary Bernard of the Sisters of St. Joseph, also of St. Augustine, according to the Golden Jubilee book. A full history of the still-vibrant St. Joseph's Church is featured on the parish website and it tells how Sisters Julia and Bernard traveled 27 miles by oxcart to start teaching. They lived a mile from the school and once got lost in the thick undergrowth and wandered around until late into the night.

The academy grew into a boarding school after the sisters started taking in boarders to help offset costs. It grew in stature, too, according to the parish history, and had students from as far away as Cuba. The sisters also taught free day school for boys and girls. Because of segregation laws, the sisters had to teach the African-American students in a separate building.

The academy lasted just shy of a century. It closed in 1963, after a remarkable run. The associated church remains a vibrant parish, and its online history is well worth reading. Not only does it provide an overview, it includes details that help convey the challenges faced by Catholics who served in Florida when it was mission territory. I salute them.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Small museums preserve local lore

Florida is dotted with small museums and historic sites that depend heavily on volunteer love and support to stay open. These sites are well worth seeking out and exploring (and supporting). Here's a video overview of Florida Pioneer Museum in Florida City that I haven't yet had the pleasure to visit.

Small, local museums are great because they showcase what daily life was like for pioneers in a specific location. The docents are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about local history. More and more of these mini-museums are gaining a video presence. I'll start to share more videos on a regular basis.

Florida Pioneer Museum is near Homestead in South Florida. Next time you're in that part of the state, stop by.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

1899 church houses vital history

photo of 1899 building that houses Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum
The Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum is housed in a
former Catholic church building constructed in 1899.
(Photo credit: Google Maps - Street View)
The National Register of Historic Places application for the St. Rita's Colored Catholic Mission building in New Smyrna Beach includes fascinating historical details. For purposes of this Catholic-oriented blog post, though, the following anecdotal excerpt paints a vivid portrait for me:
"Later, Sister Genevieve Stanislaus became the superior of the convent and Madonna House. Outraged and provoked by the blatant racism and discrimination still apparent in New Smyrna Beach - especially at the railroad station, public benches, and restaurants in the downtown - Stanislaus sat on 'colored only' benches at the depot, accompanied black children to the beach, and sat in the rear of buses."
I can almost see Sister Stanislaus sitting on a depot bench, draped in a demeanor that dared anyone to interfere.

Sister's resistance didn't take place in the late 19th or early 20th century, the focus of this blog She was a member of the Sisters of Our Lady of Christian Doctrine, which ministered in the city's westside black community from 1941 until 1969, the year the local Catholic church (Sacred Heart) integrated. Madonna House was the name of the initial ministry structure, and St. Rita was the chapel name. Later the ministry became known as St. Rita's Colored Catholic Mission.

When I talk about my love of Florida history, it's an observation that's filtered through my viewpoint. Resources available to me are primarily about white history, often from the upper classes. The absence of an abundance of other historical perspectives is disheartening. So I appreciate snippets like the story of Sister Stanislaus, and I thank the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum for saving that history. (The National Register application credits the museum for the information.)

The Black Heritage Museum is housed in the historic building that was St. Rita's Colored Catholic Mission. Named after Mary S. Harrell, who worked mightily to found and nurture the heritage organization, the museum tells the story of the city's westside community, race relations, and African-American culture.

The reason this shows up in my blog about Frontier Florida is because the building itself dates to 1899. That's the year it was built as Sacred Heart Catholic Church in New Smyrna Beach.  At the time, it was considered an outpost in Catholic mission territory. I'll write more about the church's founding in a later post. In 1956, a new Sacred Heart church building was constructed. The original from 1899 was moved to the westside community and used as St. Rita's Mission. The Diocese of Orlando deeded the building to the heritage museum organization in 1999.

I encourage all to read the full National Register application for its valuable history, and to visit the museum to connect facts on paper to actual artifacts and the local community. And perhaps to learn something new and grow in understanding, something we so desperately need today.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Not a theme park in sight

Florida's popular image is wrapped around palm trees, beaches, ocean waves, sunshine, and theme park fantasy lands. The real portrait is truly all that, but also includes congested highways, housing development, and millions of people.


Such images make it difficult to imagine how different Florida was in recent history. Our beautiful state parks, national parks, state forests, and museums help preserve a slice of that past. So do things like this video slideshow by a YouTube user named tj3usa. I don't know who this person is, but I thank him or her for uploading this portrait of an earlier era. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Summer: salubrious or just plain hot?

Florida summers must have been brutal for pioneers. I think about that when the temperature zooms into the high 90s as it did last week. Did newcomers know ahead of time what they'd face in a Florida July and August? Probably not. Advertising of the era used words like salubrious to extoll the climate.

Yet, I can't assess the matter as though my 21st century self were plopped back into the 1880s. More than one resource relates how 19th century folks were a bit hardier than their modern counterparts when it came to weather. In the North, chilly interior rooms were the norm in winter. Conversely, extreme warmth was just a part of life in the South. People adjusted their lifestyles the way I adjust a thermostat.

Floridians and others today pay homage to Apalachicola's Dr. John Gorrie, the father of air-conditioning. But more than a century would pass before his invention evolved into the familiar air-cooling systems standard in Florida houses. In the late 19th and early 20th century, even an electric fan was a status symbol in Florida. Partly, I think, because having electricity was itself a sign of wealth and stature.
Pioneers who populate my fiction didn't have electricity in the early years of settlement-building. That's because real-life settlers didn't. So what did they do when the thermostat read 97 degrees F. or higher? They:

  • Sat on the porch. That line has become cliché, but it's true. I briefly experienced Florida without air-conditioning, when I lived in a 19th century house that had been subdivided into apartments. Trust me, one goes outside.
  • Built houses to catch breezes and provide shelter from sun. That meant large - very tall - windows, shutters, overhangs, and sleeping porches. Some settlers built homes with breezeways, also called dogtrot houses. The Seminoles built open-sided structures called chickees
  • Slowed down. Today's frenetic pace of life would likely surprise even the most work-oriented pioneer. Settlers had to work hard to survive. But they knew when to bow to the weather.
I'd have a hard time giving up air conditioning. But slowing down is something I can appreciate. And sometimes try to do.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What a difference 25 years makes

July 4th festivities in 1884 DeLand. Note the flag
with 13 stars. Photo credit: Florida Memory
I tend to consider the decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one lump of time: Florida's pioneer era. Yet within that era people and places grew and evolved, much as we do in modern years. To illustrate, here are comparisons between July 4 celebrations in 1884 and 1909.

This photo depicts the holiday's festivities in DeLand in 1884. The Florida Memory webpage states that the image was captured on the holiday itself - July 4. I'd never seen this photo before and I've seen a lot of vintage DeLand images. At first I was suspect. The scene doesn't look like DeLand. The downtown buildings aren't recognizable to me. But the distant trees in the middle of the road give the photo credence. Early DeLandites did, indeed, plant trees in the middle of the main boulevard.

My guess is that the scene depicts the end of a parade, one that was slim on participation. Nonetheless, it was a legit holiday observance. Note the giant, 13-star flag on display. And how people came out to watch the procession. They're all gathered in the shady spots. What else did townsfolk do that day? Can't say from the photo. Perhaps a picnic. Games and music. Surely something more than one straggly parade.

Now listen to how folks in Pensacola partied on July 4, 1909. In a giant headline on its front page, the July 6 issue of the Pensacola Journal proclaimed that a record-breaking crowd visited Palmetto Beach for the 4th of July. "Pensacola and Pensacolans turned themselves loose in this year's celebration of Independence Day," the article breathlessly proclaims.

A giant picnic hosted by the Knights of Columbus was deemed the crowning feature of hours of festivities. The leading feature was a baseball game played by teams from Pensacola and Fort Barrancas. The city team won, 12-3. "A list of sports of other kinds was also pulled off, to the delight and amusement of hundreds of people," the article says.

The day didn't end there. Dancing, vaudeville, bathing, and music by a "highly efficient orchestra" added to the celebration's luster. Things didn't wind down until the "last moon-lit night hour." The article makes particular note of the smooth, orderly transit of people to and from festivities via the city's "electric line."

I'm not sure what the electric line was; perhaps a trolley. One thing is certain, the 1884 celebration relied on horsepower and solar lighting a la sunshine, not electricity.

Which event was better?  I'd venture to say each was a success. You can't compare the two, really. They're products of their time. In 1884, electricity and the year 1909 belonged to the future. In 1909, nobody thought about a world war soon to loom on the horizon. Still, though a quarter-century apart in years and culture, the celebrants were united in their appreciation of the United States. That sentiment still stands. Happy Fourth of July.



Saturday, June 18, 2016

Immigrant, Catholic, and 1-percenter

cover of 1987 memoir 'Panhandle Memories' by Adelia Rosasco Soule
I jumped to read the 1987 memoir, Panhandle Memories, by poet Adelia Rosasco-Soule. Frontier memoirs are a favorite, and this one was about a pioneer Catholic family.

There aren't as many references about Catholicism as I expected. I wondered why, because Catholicism shapes one's whole being. Adelia and her family were minorities: Italian immigrants, Catholic, and members of the region's 1 percent. The mix was certainly unusual. Perhaps Adelia focused only on the big picture in her writing, even when elderly and the Poet of the Panhandle. She was named the first Poet Laureate of the West Florida Panhandle in 1986. Also, the book is a compilation from the poet's writings, not a straight memoir. It was edited and published by the West Florida Literary Federation and the Pensacola Press Club.

The memoir is shaped as though written alternately by Adelia and the family's mixed-race housekeeper "Aunt Mariah" Cosey. Adelia was 3 when her family moved from Genoa, Italy, to Bay Point, outside Milton, in 1904. They lived in the waterfront "Big House" and her father was president of the sawmill and a bank. The family also conducted a shipping business.

Tidbits of Catholic history I gleaned are (with page numbers in parentheses):
  • Before "Madam" - Adelia's mother, Ermelinda Schiaffino Rosasco -  arrived there was only one other Catholic lady in Santa Rosa County, a German immigrant. (34)
  • A Father Fullerton from St. Michael's arrived by boat from Pensacola to christen the first Rosasco born in Bay Point. After that, "all the mission priests were Irish from little St. Anne's in Bagdad." The German Catholic lady was caretaker of St. Anne's. (34)
  • Locals ate gopher gumbo each Friday, "whether Catholic or not." (48)
  • On weeks when Mass wasn't said, Adelia's mother had her children say "the Rosary and Litany, all in Latin." (73).  
  • In 1909-10, and 1911-12, Adelia attended Perpetual Adoration Convent school in Pensacola (today's Sacred Heart Cathedral School). (81-82)
  • Faith "was kept alive and nurtured" by Adelia's mother and mission priests from Pensacola. The priests lodged with the family, and were given coffee and sweet buns for the trip home. (95).
  • Mass was said once a month in the parlor, and Adelia's mother took care of the altar linens. (134)
  • Adelia's mother went on retreat two days a year at the convent. (134) (Historical note: the Sisters of Perpetual Adoration left Pensacola in 1945.) 
What does this all tell me?  That we've all been immigrants at one time or another, either in recent generations or in the distant past. At some point in every family's life - even our Native Americans, for they, too traveled here from elsewhere - a generation has been alone in an unfamiliar place. Gradually, each found a way to make the old and new fit together. May we continue to do so today, without animosity, and with love.

My gratitude to Volusia County Library System for having this book.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Oblong hush puppies? Apparently

Recipe on postcard is shown inside a cookbook
This recipe was found on a postcard tucked inside a vintage
cookbook from the 1920s. (Photo: Gerri Bauer)
The summer grilling season has officially started, so of course I'm thinking about food. More than usual, I mean. In Florida, grilling season runs from January to December.

Floridians have been cooking outdoors forever. In pioneer days, outdoor cooking was done to keep heat out of the house and lessen the risk of fire. Kitchens were often in detached buildings, for the same reasons.

But whether one cooked indoors or out, over a wood stove or a fire pit, certain traditional foods often showed up on the menu. One such food is the hush puppy, a corn-based fritter flavored with onion and deep-fried. I long assumed hush puppies of yore resembled hush puppies of today - small rounds about the size of golf balls. A hand-written heirloom recipe I found tucked inside an antique cookbook reminds me never to assume.

The recipe for Tallahassee Hush Puppies is on a postcard mailed in 1949 to a Mrs. Edwin Haynes of Canton, N.C., from someone named Edna, obviously a relative or friend on first-name basis. The ingredients are familiar: cornmeal, baking power, chopped onion, milk, salt. The shocker is that Edna instructs the cook to hand mold her dough into oblong pones. She even gives specific dimensions.

I realize I'm a Yankee, but I've lived in Florida for many, many years. I have never seen an oblong hush puppy. Edna notes that she found her recipe in a book of old Southern recipes. Makes me wonder what the original source is. I'd love to know.

The recipe is below, if you want to try it out. First, can I just say that finding such a handwritten note tucked inside a vintage cookbook I bought at a flea market is like finding buried treasure.  And it wasn't the only surprise I found in The Rumford Complete Cook Book, by Lily Haxworth Wallace, "lecturer, teacher, and writer on domestic science."

Numerous penciled recipes cover blank pages in just about every chapter. They're all written in cursive, too. There's even a ration card used as a bookmark.

I'm not sure which previous owner left their mark for later generations to find. First published by the Rumford Company in 1908, the cookbook was popular enough to go into second and third printings. My version is from 1928 and bears signatures of four owners, including me. I'm guessing "Thos. E. Haynes" was the first owner, as his name is written splashily, on an angle, across half the inside cover. The rest of us share part of the opposite page.

I still haven't read through all the additional recipes that someone - possibly Mrs. Haynes - penciled throughout the book. She also jotted notes here and there. One of my favorites is on page 118. "Good try this" is written next to the recipe for French Rolls, with an arrow drawn to the recipe name for added emphasis. Good recipes know no eras. I think I'll give those rolls a try. But first, the hush puppies. Thanks, Edna.

TALLAHASSEE HUSH PUPPIES
2 cups corn meal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 cups sweet milk
1/2 cup water
1 large onion chopped fine

Sift the dry ingredients together & add milk & water. Stir in chopped onion. Add more milk or meal as may be necessary to form a soft but workable dough. With the hands mold pieces of the dough in pones (oblong cakes about 5" long & 3" wide, & 3/4 thick). Fry in deep hot fat until well browned. Found this in book of old Southern recipes. - Edna




Monday, May 16, 2016

Smell the salt air, feel the ocean breeze

19th century scene showing the seawall, street, and houses in St. Augustine, Florida
Walking along the seawall, pictured here, is one of the ways
people passed the time in St. Augustine in the 19th century.
(Photo credit: Library of Congress)
Part 2 of 2

Today I revisit 19th century author and travel writer Constance Fenimore Woolson to share excerpts from some of her letters. Specifically, to share snippets from letters in which she talks about frontier Florida. She wintered in Florida in the mid-1870s. For more on Woolson herself and her contributions to the literary canon, see Part 1 of this post.

There are so many things to share, I'm going to save some for future use. Woolson's observations are wonderful windows into an earlier time. Granted, she was writing from a privileged perspective. But her sensitivity to people and place make it easy for the modern reader to step back into the past ... from air-conditioned comfort. This is Florida.

All the following excerpts are from The Complete Letters of Constance Fenimore Woolson, edited by Sharon L. Dean (University Press of Florida, 2012). They reference St. Augustine except where noted.

Travel
Dec. 4, 1874 (estimate): "Then we came by cars to Jacksonville, and thence by boat to our landing, Tocoi, where an important little locomotive was 'tooting' on the dock. Think of it - a railroad to the 'ancient city'! It will soon be 'ancient' no longer."

Pastimes
Dec. 4, 1874 (estimate): "In the mornings she [Woolson's mother] walks on the sea wall; then she embroiders, then dinner and a nap, then the piazza, a little reading, then tea, the mail. Bezique and bed. When Clara [Woolson's sister] arrives, Bezique will be varied by cribbage."

April 17, 1876: "I am glad you liked the St. Augustine oranges. ... I myself am very fond of oranges, and you would be astonished to see how many we eat ... among the groves."

Feb. 24, 1878: "I have a row boat and row daily on the broad, still, chocolate-colored river." [St. Johns River in Hibernia]

Climate
Dec. 4, 1874 (estimate): "To day, for instance, we are sitting with open windows, there is a lovely breeze blowing in from the ocean, and the soft Florida sky is as blue as June in Ohio."

[No month] 1876: "It has been very warm here - too warm to exercise much; foggy, but I like the sea fog. It seemed so pleasant to catch the smell of salt marshes as the [railroad?] cars neared the city. Two long winters in St. Augustine have given me a great liking for salt air."

Nature
Dec. 12, 1876: "The inlet is just as blue as ever and the pine-barrens as green."

Feb. 24, 1878:  "... this [Hibernia] is an island in the St. John[s] river, a quiet pleasant place, neither so gay nor so delightful as St. Augustine, but still an epitome of peace."

May 5, 1878: "Hundreds of snakes here [Hibernia]. I saw last Thursday one, just killed in the road, 5 feet 5 inches long, 13 rattles! Moccasin snakes numerous."

Woolson bonded with Florida, in particular with St. Augustine. She retained a fondness for the area for the rest of her life. In an 1883 letter written from Venice, Italy, where she lived at the time, Woolson noted: "If I could have a little coquina cottage by the southern sea at St. Augustine, I would come home & stay forever."

Wouldn't we all.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Florida sojourner: Constance Fenimore Woolson

Black and white 19th century photo of Constance Fenimore Woolson
Constance Fenimore Woolson
Photo from Wikimedia Commons
Part 1 of 2

I just read the excellent new biography of Constance Fenimore Woolson, an under-appreciated 19th century writer. Anne Boyd Rioux's Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of A Lady Novelist (Norton, 2016) covers an entire life, but it was Woolson's Southern sojourns that most interested me. She wintered in St. Augustine for several years in the 1870s, and set some of her short stories and at least one of her novels, the mid-1880s East Angels, in Florida.

It's probably safe to say that literate Florida pioneer settlers read Woolson's works or were aware of her. She was a lauded and popular writer of both fiction and nonfiction - travel articles, stories, and novels. The same can't be said today. She's hardly known anymore, although her reputation is on the upswing again.

I became aware of Woolson via English professor Dr. John Pearson, now AVP of Academic Affairs, at Stetson University. He's part of a group of scholars who have published on Woolson and have worked to rebuild her literary reputation. Thanks to his introduction, I started to explore her literature. I began with her short-story collection Rodman the Keeper because of its Southern focus.

Immediately, I was taken with Woolson's keen perceptions of local mores, her descriptions of Florida, and her respectful handling of colorful locals whom lesser writers might have disparaged. The stories are so rich in sense of place, time, and people that they function as windows to a distinct era long past. The stories also are enjoyable - even to the modern reader -  and often poignant.

Next on my Woolson reading list is East Angels, which one Goodreads reviewer says is a "fascinating picture of post-Bellum Florida, the role of women in 19th century life, and of women in the period." First, though, I plan to focus on Part 2 of this blog post: a look at some of the ways Woolson spoke of 19th century Florida and Floridians in her letters. Stay tuned. In the meantime, read some of her literature for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Fun fact: Woolson was grandniece of James Fenimore Cooper, author of The Last of the Mohicans.

Friday, April 15, 2016

A church like no other?

St. John Catholic Church in the 1910s
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church was designed
by architect George E. Ledvina in the early 1900s.
Photo credit: Florida Memory
This photo of a frontier Florida church stopped me cold in my web browsings. Look at the ornate design depicted in this 1910s image of St. John's Catholic Church in Dunnellon! Not something you see every day in pioneer Florida.

I'm not versed in architectural nomenclature or style trends. But even my untrained eye can guess that the Eastern Orthodox-style dome and Gothic-influenced windows set the structure apart from many counterparts. My rudimentary research into the pioneer Catholic presence in Florida usually uncovers plain, rectangular, box-like church buildings. The fledgling communities rarely had the the funds to get fancy. If you look closely, the Dunnellon church actually is a basic box.  A rectangle - and then some.

The story of the St. John's faith community that worshipped in the distinctive church is a tale of challenge and perseverance. A parish history on the current St. John the Baptist Church's website terms the struggle "a dramatic story of survival and growth despite great adversity." I'll say.

The following is the partial story, as told in the parish history:

Born during Dunnellon's phosphate industry boom, the parish initially served the many Catholics who worked in the industry. The parish history says construction of the church - or, the "ornate structure" - was under the supervision of an architect named George E. Ledvina. Benedictine Fr. Charles Mohr, OSB, dedicated the church in January 1914. Fr. Mohr was the first abbot of St. Leo Abbey, the Benedictine community that sponsored the new church.

Parish life faded when the phosphate industry died after World War I and many Catholics moved away. The building was leased to Marion County in 1921, and sold to the Dunnellon Women's Club in 1923. Remaining Catholics had to travel to Ocala or elsewhere for Mass all the way into the 1960s, when Dunnellon was re-established as a Catholic mission.  Read the full parish history. It really does reflect a story of survival, including the loss of a newer church building to fire in 1981. That era is too far outside the scope of this blog for me to relay the story here.

Photo of Holy Redeemer Church in Kissimmee in the 1910s
Holy Redeemer Church. Photo credit: Florida Memory.
I tried to find out more about the architect who designed the first church in such dramatic fashion. Ledvina also designed the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Redeemer in Kissimmee around the same time - the decade of the 1910s. It looks more like what you'd expect in a Christian church of the time.

Other than that, Mr. Ledvina seems to have vanished from readily available online records. Drop me a line in the comments if you know anything else.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Rediscovering the 'Most Popular Catholic Novel'

19th century oil painting of Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman
Artist Eduardo Cano painted this oil on canvas of Cardinal
Wiseman in 1865-1866. The artwork is at the University of
Seville. Public domain image is from Wikipedia Commons.
As an author of Catholic-oriented novels, I wonder what religiously oriented fiction was available to 19th century Catholics in Florida. My cursory web searches haven't been too fruitful in this department.

I found one relevant post on McNamara's Blog by church historian and professor Pat McNamara. He posted an 1897 article about Catholic author L.W. Reilly, who actually did spend some time in Florida in the 1880s. No novel titles are mentioned, though.

Another 1897 publication offered a clue about an important Catholic novel of the era, a story named Fabiola, or the Church of the Catacombs. Really, the clue was a shout. I was browsing through an online version of the 1897 nonfiction book, How to Make the Mission, by "A Dominican Father" (Philadelphia, H.L. Kilner & Co.) and saw a full-page ad that knew no shame.  It loudly proclaimed Fabiola as "The Most Popular Catholic Novel Ever Published."

Granted, the publisher was one and the same. But Fabiola was written in 1854, almost 45 years before the ad was published. Kilner & Co. was advertising its new, large-print edition. The novel about the early church was so significant that it must have been on bookshelves in some pioneer Florida Catholic homes.

The author was one reason. His Eminence Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman was a towering figure of his time, with legendary achievements as a religious leader. He's fully worth a separate blog post. Cardinal Wiseman was a prolific writer of nonfiction, but his fiction also earned accolades. Wikipedia says the success of Fabiola was "immediate and phenomenal" and that it was translated into almost every European language.

So, it seems Fabiola is - or was - as good as the publisher touted. We'll see. I've started reading it. Cardinal Wiseman has a strong voice, and the prose isn't as florid as some writing of that era can be. Even in the early pages, I sense the Catholic essence -  beyond obvious elements such as characters of strong faith. The essence emerges in such things as a character's defense of human dignity no matter what a person's status in life. Such continuity through centuries is one of the durable threads that connect Catholics over time. Cardinal Wiseman is still teaching and preaching to us all.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Pulling together, not apart

Isolated, old burial plot in what is now Ocala National Forest
Burial plots were often on the family homestead in pioneer
 Florida. This one is in the Big Scrub near Ocala. Neighbors
pulled together to help when death occurred on the frontier.
Photo credit: State Archives of Florida
Maybe I have jet lag from the time change, and it's made me cranky. Maybe I'm tired of the nasty election-year rhetoric on every side. But it seems more and more people are spitting and sputtering in fractious dialogues and encounters, and vying to be loudest and meanest. Are people tearing into one another because our society no longer calls on us to help one another? I mean, really help? As in the next-door-neighbor kind of help?

I can't answer that question. But it arises because I encounter opposite behavior so often in old diaries and letters. I'm first to say the "good old days" weren't always so good. Settlers in pioneer Florida - and on any frontier, for that matter - faced tremendous odds. They needed grit to survive. Perhaps it was a requisite personality trait for anyone considering a move to a remote location devoid of most creature comforts. All I can determine is that, once in a place, they bonded. And not because they were all of the same class, ethnicity, or faith. They usually weren't. (Sadly, even these gritty pioneers usually couldn't overcome racial barriers, at least not that I've uncovered yet.)

The following sad example illustrates the way pioneers pulled together instead of pulled each other apart. In 1878, DeLand was still a raw Florida town despite its growth. There wasn't a hospital around the corner or an EMT a phone call away. Serious illness or accident could lead to death. And sometimes that death was the worst kind possible, that of a baby.

I'll let DeLand innkeeper Lucy Mead Parce tell the rest in the words she used in an October 1878 letter to her son in another state:
"Mrs. Thomas's baby (4 weeks old) died last night. Miss Deane sent over for me to come and help trim the coffin last evening. We have some beautiful fine white wildflowers & I made a wreath and cross of those & geranium leaves. ... A carpenter made the coffin. Mrs. Southworth and Leet lined it & Miss Deane made a wreath of geranium to finish it around the top with. I write this to show you that what is done we have to do ourselves ... The funeral was today at 12 o'clock. Your Father made the prayer. Adda, Will, Miss Deane and two or three others sang. It was buried in their yard. Mrs. Thomas is very poorly ... I should not be at all surprised if she did not live long herself."
She goes on to explain how Mrs. Thomas was being kept alive by neighbors who shared nursing duties. My point is this: Here you have people dropping everything to help a neighbor family through a time of intense grief. Tell me, do you know of someone who would craft a coffin overnight in today's world? Or stay up late to line it or weave flower chains to drape across it? Yes, they had to make-do themselves, as Lucy Parce states. But they didn't complain about it. Their unity leaps out from her written words, more than 135 years after she set them on paper. So does a gentle civility that appears to have vanished from the modern landscape.

I know people today rise to occasions when necessary. I know frontier dwellers clung to one another partly because their known world ended in a thicket of unwelcoming wilderness in the near distance. But still. Have we lost something of ourselves? I hope not.



Sunday, February 28, 2016

Quilts that inspire

Close-up of heirloom quilt featured in the book "Florida Quilts"
This New York Beauty heirloom quilt was made in the 1860s
and is featured on page 60 of the book Florida Quilts.
I'm fresh from a visit to the American Quilter's Society Daytona Beach Quilt Week. I saw beautiful examples of fiber arts - both traditional piecework and art quilts - got inspired, and also got thinking about the threads of continuity that bind quilters.

The fiber arts today are a hobby for most enthusiasts and a career for some. I'm an experienced seamstress but a novice quilter, with one quilt, one star-themed block for the NASA quilt, and one table runner to my credit. For women on the Florida frontier, quiltmaking was a necessity. Homemakers crafted bedcovers for family members and young women stitched quilts for their trousseaus. One such person was Sarah Asberry Brown Anderson.

Sarah's story is told in the 1992 book Florida Quilts, by Charlotte Allen Williams (University Press of Florida). Sarah lived in Wakulla County in North Florida when she started making the New York Beauty quilt pictured with this blog post. She was 12, and she dyed her homespun cotton fabric with tree bark solutions before cutting the pieces and hand-sewing the quilt. Sarah began the quilt in 1865 and finished it in 1869.

Williams writes that New York Beauty was a popular pattern in the late 1800s. Other designs popular in the late 19th century included:

  • Friendship quilts that included embroidered signatures
  • Log Cabin
  • Irish Chain
  • Album block quilts
  • Crazy quilts
  • Applique quilts that featured stylized flower designs

Sarah's descendants reported that she was proud of her New York Beauty quilt and preserved it through the years. One look at the photo and the level of craftsmanship is obvious. I'd be proud, too, if I'd cut and sewn together those hundreds of pieces into a beautiful finished whole. Having experimented with natural dyes, I can also attest to the quality of the fabric's colors.

The care given the New York Beauty is why it survived long enough to be documented in Florida Quilts. The book profiles some of the women and quilts uncovered during the Florida Quilt Heritage Project. That project, which I've written about before, did a remarkable job of bringing many women's lost stories back to life through their quilts.

Today, quiltmakers receive their just due and are credited for their work. The fiber arts are celebrated. This post is to pay homage to all the unsung needlewomen of the past.

The Museum of Florida History maintains the digital files of the Florida Quilt Heritage Project. See the museum's Florida Quilt Collection website to view more heirloom quilts. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Chocolate: sweet in any century

old engraving that depicts chocolate flower, fruit and seeds
Illustration in The Chocolate-Plant is credited
to "an old engraving." The image depicts the
flowers, fruit and seeds of the chocolate plant.
February brings Valentine's Day, which brings chocolate. Yum. Chocolate fandom surpasses century boundaries. I can imagine a character in one of my novels reading  The Chocolate-Plant (Theobroma cacao) and Its Products, an 1891 book similar to modern publications that trace a culinary product's history from the days of antiquity. Author Mrs. Ellen H. Richards also provides "suggestions relative to the cooking of chocolate and cocoa." Of course, I flipped right to that section. Flipped digitally, I should say. I've discovered a wonderful world of digitized public-domain cookbooks on various library and other websites.

The "receipt" for Chocolate Ice Cream in The Chocolate-Plant is so complex I got tired just reading it. And I like to bake and make sweets. Chocolate was often a treat and a luxury for pioneers on a frontier. That might account for a 19th century cook's willingness to follow an intricate recipe. Here is the recipe, for historical interest only. I haven't tried it and don't vouch for it. Especially because the instructions assume the cook is using a wood-burning stove.
CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
For about two quarts and a half of cream use a pint and a half of milk, a quart of thin cream, two cupfuls of sugar, two ounces of No. 1 chocolate, two eggs and two heaping tablespoonfuls of flour.
Put the milk on to boil in the double-boiler. Put the flour and one cupful of the sugar in a bowl; add the eggs, and beat the mixture until light. Stir this into the boiling milk and cook for twenty minutes, stirring often.
Scrape the chocolate and put it in a small saucepan. Add four tablespoonfuls of sugar (which should be taken from the second cupful) and two tablespoonfuls of hot water. Stir over a hot fire until smooth and glossy. Add this to the cooking mixture.  
When the preparation has cooked for twenty minutes take it from the fire and add the remainder of the sugar and the cream, which should be gradually beaten into the hot mixture. Set away to cool, and when cold, freeze.  
The Chocolate-Plant, published by Walter Baker and Co. of Massachusetts, is the second version of an earlier release. A publisher's note indicates the first one was so warmly received it was expanded and reissued. The book is a fun read. I recommend browsing through it while munching on a chocolate bar. Which, by the way, cost 2 cents to buy in 1908. (Thanks, Food Timeline, for that factoid.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Chilly reminder of 1894-1895 freeze

Four photos of Florida citrus groves after the 1894-1895 freeze
This montage of scenes from the 1894-1895 freeze is from a
NOAA-Preserve America Initiative fact sheet. Cold
temperatures and ice, not snow, caused the damage.
The same weekend Jonas blew through the Northeast, we dropped below freezing for the first time this winter. My weather app reported 30 degrees at about 8 a.m. Jan. 24, 2016. No snow, but for Floridians, a crisis of cold. We never got out of the 40s that day.

The cold snap was too short to do damage. But when I ventured outdoors - briefly - into a frosty 32 degrees the weather app said felt like 26,  I was reminded of the catastrophic and legendary 1894-1895 freeze. I scurried back into the warmth of central heating. There was no such thing back in the day. Cold outdoors equalled cold indoors, offset by inefficient fireplaces or wood-burning stoves whose warmth rarely reached bedrooms. 

The Big Freeze was what a Florida Citrus Mutual timeline calls an "impact freeze" because its severity caused serious economic damage and also rearranged the state's citrus industry. A Dec. 29-30, 1894 freeze was followed by unusual warmth, and then another hard freeze Feb. 7-9, 1895. 

1895 photo of people standing in frozen orange grove with fruit on the ground
Rollins College photo of 1894-1895 freeze damage. 
Vintage photos of the aftermath are in the archives of cities and organizations scattered across Florida. The Rollins College Archives includes this photo in a blog post titled, "Rollins Reminiscences." All the oranges littering the ground represented lost income. In just one example of what happened statewide, the blog post relates how the freeze wiped out the college's endowment. The post also includes a British tourist's recollections of the orange trees turning black and the fruits turning into "lumps of yellow ice."

In both December and February, temperatures in Jacksonville dropped to 14 and winds blew at up to 35 mph. In Orlando, near where the Rollins photo was taken, temperatures dipped to 18 and 19. Those stats are from the interesting, online U.S. Department of Agriculture 1896 report written soon after the back-to-back disasters. The report also states that 3 million boxes of oranges and lemons were destroyed in the 1894 freeze, and the trees themselves were lost a few months later. The paper goes into great horticultural and meteorological detail, and is definitely worth a look if you're interested in that type of historical information. 

Me, I'll be reading it in the warmth of indoors.