Sunday, February 12, 2017

Food, culture contrast in 'Cross Creek Cookery'

Open pages of Cross Creek Cookery cookbook
Cross Creek Cookery was published 75 years ago.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of Cross Creek and Cross Creek Cookery, both by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. First editions of both books have a place of honor on my bookshelves.

Rawlings moved to Florida in the 1920s and homesteaded in pioneer fashion on a citrus grove in Cross Creek. Even today, the Creek remains a hamlet. It's a strip of land sandwiched between Lochloosa and Orange lakes, an easy drive from Gainesville or Ocala but a century away in ambience.

In the 1920s and 1930s, Cross Creek was remote. Many local customs and behaviors were country holdovers from the turn of the 20th century and earlier. Rawlings captured the essence and lifestyles of the people, and brought them to life in fiction and nonfiction. Readers met many of the locals in Rawlings' popular memoir, Cross Creek.

Although Rawlings lived her version of a Florida Cracker lifestyle at Cross Creek, she was from a privileged background. She moved seamlessly between her rural haven and the urban Northeast. Nowhere is that contrast more evident than in Cross Creek Cookery

The cookbook features a mix of local country cuisine and family recipes from Rawlings' cultured upbringing. The instructions for "Mother's Almond Cake," with its "Almond Paste Filling" and "Boiled Frosting for Almond Cake," require three pages of text. "Cassava Pudding" - a backwoods treat - needs only a paragraph. The recipe was shared with Rawlings by a homesteader in the Ocala National Forest. The woman and her family had settled in the Florida scrub before it became a national forest.

The book's commentary is as revealing as the juxtaposition of recipes. Rawlings was aware. She knew that although she had lived in Cross Creek for years, she never truly could be of Cross Creek. In her preface to the recipe for "Sweet Potato Pone," she tells of the time she invited a local friend to the family's Christmas dinner at Cross Creek. She spent days preparing an elaborate meal.

Afterwards, she told her guest the meal was an example of a typical Yankee Christmas dinner. She asked what his family would eat for a typical Florida Cracker Christmas dinner. Her friend's reply? "Whatever we can git, Ma'am. Whatever we can git." (Page 183)

Be sure you get the chance to spend some time with one or both of these classic books. Happy 75th Anniversary to a piece of Florida's past.

No comments:

Post a Comment