Tag Archives: St. Augustine

FLORIDA COOKING AND EATING IN COLONIAL TIMES

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Source: A Culinary History of Florida: Prickly Pears, Datil Peppers and Key Limes by Joy Sheffield Harris. 2014

The kitchen in the de Mesa-Sanchez House at the Colonial Quarters Museum in St. Augustine sparked my interest in the food and cooking of that era. I saw the open hearth, and the colorful fruits and vegetables sitting on the worktable in the kitchen. There were large pots, dippers with long handles, brooms, earthenware bowls and other kitchen utensils. Baskets, canvas bags, boxes and crates for storing food were scattered about the room.

So when I visited the Barnes and Noble bookstore and the Florida shelves, A Culinary History of Florida jumped off the shelf and into my hands. I could not resist its lure. What was it like cooking in a colonial kitchen? What did colonial era families eat? Most years I buy a new book about Florida. Last year I went back north with The Voyage of the Sea Turtle, sometimes I read about plants, sometimes people.

This book begins with information about Paleoindians who lived in Florida as long as 12,000 years ago. I soon turned to the chapters on Colonial times when the Spanish, then French and the British and again the Spanish colonized and governed St. Augustine, or in the case of the French had settlements up the Atlantic coast and also brought French-Creole foods from Louisiana into North Florida. Juan Ponce de Leon sailed with Andalusia cows on his second voyage, and the Florida cattle industry began. The Spanish government required all ships bound for Florida to carry plants, seed, and animals. De Soto brought hogs. Native Americans influenced what Europeans ate when they left behind stores of food while escaping the approaching European invaders. The Spanish planted corn and other crops. Florida lakes, rivers and oceans provided seafood, and forests yielded wild game.

Loquat tree on the grounds of Colonia Quarters Museum

Loquat tree on the grounds of Colonia Quarters Museum

The Spaniards brought the Asian Loquat tree to Florida. A loquat grows on the grounds of the Colonial Quarters Museum. Its yellow fruit ripens about this time of year and tastes like apricots. It can be cooked and eaten in combination with other fruits or to make jams and jellies. As early as 1699 large orchards of oranges, lemons, limes, figs, and peaches grew in the St. Augustine area along with Indian corn, peas and herbs.

One hundred years later the ethnic mix in the city became even richer. Minorcans, Greeks and Italians walked the seventy miles to St. Augustine from a large failed indigo plantation near New Smyrna. Among the foods introduced by this group was the Datil pepper to flavor stews, sauces and the like. These slender homegrown yellow-green peppers are still used in restaurants and homes all over St. Augustine. Shrimp and mullet, sea turtles, lemon and eggplant were common and largely familiar foods they found in St. Augustine when they arrived. Some cooking was done outdoors as kitchens were small. Breakfast for the Minorcans and others who shared their traditions might be bread with oil, grated radishes, minced onion, chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil vinegar and lemon. Sounds like bruschetta, doesn’t it?

Datil Pepper Sauce sold at DeLeon Springs State Park and many other locations in the general area.

Datil Pepper Sauce sold at DeLeon Springs State Park and many other locations in the general area.

Colonial kitchens contained an open hearth for cooking and often, there was an outdoor wood-fired brick oven as well. A moveable crane supported large pots over the fireplace. Potatoes and eggs could be roasted among the ashes. Andirons with spits were used for roasting meat. Pots with legs, known as spiders, sat in the hearth atop hot ashes and coals. Potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables, as well as meats and wild game were often used to prepare the stews so important to the diet of the time. Mission Stew combined the foods of native and Spanish culture: pork, beef, chicken, squash, beans and corn.

A spider sits on the corner of the table in the kitchen of the Sanchez House at the museum.

A spider sits on the corner of the table in the kitchen of the Sanchez House at the museum.

Turtle meat was enjoyed all over Florida. William Bartram wrote in detail of eating during his travels in 1791. With the Seminoles at Paynes Town he was served venison stewed in bear’s oil, fresh corn cakes, milk and hominy. They drank honeyed water. Later his party ate barbecued ribs, and kettles of stewed fish, but the soft-shelled tortoise was a favorite.

This book also has chapters on the Early Seminoles, Florida Cookbooks, Soul and Cracker Cooking and recipes. More reading about Florida Food through the years is ahead for me. I like learning about food from an earlier time.

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XIMENEZ-FATIO HOUSE

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A ST. AUGUSTINE TREASURE WHERE GHOSTS FLUTTER THROUGH THE HISTORIC HOUSE ON A GRAY DAY IN WINTER

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Oh the stories this doll might tell! She resides in the family living space on the second floor of the Ximenez-Fatio House, now a museum at 20 Aviles Street, St. Augustine Florida. This lodging in the Old City is furnished to reflect its use as an elegant inn from 1821-1860. Constructed of thick coquina rock, it was first built in 1798. As I visited the different rooms I imagined encounters with characters from long ago living the boarding house lifestyle.

Rooms for Boarders

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Dining Room
Exceptional food provided an important element to the business of sisters Margaret Cook and Eliza Whitehurst who operated the boarding house business. The punkah or fan over the table kept flies from the food.

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Cards in the parlor corner, one of several games available.

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A camp desk in the room of a military boarder with bed and washstand.

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A doctor’s stethoscope is one of many artifacts on a fireplace mantel.

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Visiting naturalists paved the way for an increasing tourist trade.

Family Rooms

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Family enjoyed music in the parlor.

Sewing

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A place to work a sampler

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Linens

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Bedrooms
The beds in each room were different sizes whether for family or boarders, plenty of beds for children as over the years owners provided for extended family.

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Kitchen
Inside the detached kitchen building furnished as a 2nd Spanish Period kitchen (1784-1821).

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Tart Seville oranges in the windowsill.

Other kitchen scenes

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Tours
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Our talented docent and the store manager Gili Lockner spoke in a musical voice, well-modulated to give us insights into the daily lives of those who might stay in this place as she lead us from room to room. I’m not sure when I’ve enjoyed a guided tour more. She made me long to come again to the house, perhaps on a sunny day and sit in the pleasant and inviting courtyard.

Courtyard.
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Here in the yard one more clearly sees how the buildings are arranged: the el shape of the main building with the bedrooms to the back, and the kitchen building and the wash house with an outdoor fire to boil the clothing on washday.

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Other Information
Do visit the website www.ximenezfatiohouse.org

Daring Daughters by Karen Harvey gives more information on the women who lived here and ran the boarding house.

If you would like to read more about this interesting historic house, see my essay, “At Ximenez-Fatio House” written after a previous visit and posted soon on the writing page. You may also find interesting information on construction and dating of the house at Wikipedia.

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CELEBRATE A ONE HUNDRED YEAR TRADITION

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Aunt Kate’s Restaurant serves small sweet oysters harvested from the Tolomoto River/Intercoastal Waterway and fried to a golden crispness. Eating oysters at this spot continues a long tradition. They have been served under a grove of live oak trees alongside this river for more than 100 years. Buildings have changed, owners have changed, but an eating establishment continues to occupy this spot. You can enjoy some very good food waterside at Aunt Kate’s.

The crooks of the live oak branches are like artwork in the sunshine. Tiered decks step down to the water. At Sunday lunch we were serenaded by a musician who included one of my favorites––“Big Rock Candy Mountain”. This folk song was originally written and recorded in 1928 by Harry McClintock and later sung by the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, climbing the charts at different times during the twentieth century.

The charm and comfort of Aunt Kate’s are undeniable.

Aunt Kate’s is located about two and a half miles north of the Vilano Bridge on the Tolomoto River. A sign on A1A alerts you to turn left. Drive nearly to the water and there it is under the spreading trees with plenty of parking.

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Here they serve some very good food. Buttermilk ranch dressing topped my fresh salad.

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The bacon broccoli cheese soup tasted smoky and rich with big chunks of broccoli.

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Sweet and tangy pulled pork was Jerry’s choice. Look at those pickles. Makes you want to grab one.

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I had a basket of oysters with creamy dill tarter sauce I absolutely could not resist. They were the finest oysters I’ve had this winter. The menu includes all kinds of seafood and other southern style dishes. There is a full bar and outdoor seating on the water. Check out their informative website. www.aunt-kates.com

Fine food and local charm make eating in this spot as sweet as the oysters.

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A NEW FAVORITE CAPTURES MY PALATE

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The Black Molly Grill
504 W. Geoffrey Street
Cobblestone Village
St. Augustine, Florida
www.blackmollygrill.com

“Come on in” is the way I feel when I enter the Black Molly Grill with its casual, comfortable yet stylish interior. I love the spacious booths, able to accommodate your party or my reading material. It’s open every day at 11:00 a.m. Someone always smiles at me.

So far I’ve had three different lunches, taken my husband along, and quizzed the waitresses and some of the other patrons. I’ve enjoyed shrimp and grits, a seafood platter of red snapper and shrimp, lightly fried with just the whisper of a crisp coating and a lightly blackened fish sandwich (I think it was snapper again, but I had a choice). Jerry had a rib eye sandwich. All of this food was the very best. I understand from quizzing others that the place has top quality beef. I observed a couple eating huge wonderful looking burgers dripping with juiciness. They told me these were the best burgers they had had in St. Augustine. Well, the woman said she didn’t like burgers and this one was delicious.

The place has a full bar and a very nice wine list. Usually, the wait staff is knowledgeable and more than courteous. I love it when they tell me about the different foods on the menu. The salads are crisp and fresh with house-made dressing, or it certainly tastes like it, and I’m fussy about the salad dressing. I’m looking forward to trying the fish tacos, and the burgers. Yes, I plan to go there again.

To my mind, this restaurant serves quickly cooked fresh food with the slightest adornment. No need for heavy sauce or multiple garnish to mask the questionable quality of the food. It’s true I like local fish and Black Molly’s excels in this department as well as others.

The menu includes a variety of chicken dishes, salads, pastas and burgers in five flavors. Appetizers include hand-cut fried mozzarella and other dreamy items. At dinner there are many meat and pasta dishes as well as vegetarian choices. Prices are reasonable.

I love the place. I thank everyone who works there. I hope they keep turning out simple food, well prepared, food that tastes the way the way it should. Yes, the latter is a subjective statement. Still, I’m not after tofu, or chicken smothered in a sauce with five different ingredients and two vegetables on top. Simple meat or fish, cooked to perfection is what I like best.

As you can see from the menu, you have plenty of choice at The Black Molly Grill. I hope you will try it out and tell me what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.