Locally grown. Local Produce. Farm grown. Grown by local growers.
Across the nation, many people are interested in purchasing locally-grown produce and homemade products. This has become more prevalent, as Americans are taking more of an interest in those vegetables, fruits and other products locally made, locally grown, locally produced and appreciating more the taste and quality of local produce. Some of us have been accelerated learners, as we knew that long ago. It just took some folks a little while to "catch up.”
For years in this area, most folks who lived on family farms grew a lot of what the family ate during the year. Everything was canned, jarred and later frozen
Folks even pickled watermelon rinds, making watermelon rind preserves. During the summer, one could often see the steam rising in Southern kitchens, as many ladies and men canned, preserved and "put up" goods.
As folks moved away, more and more from farms into cities, and into towns, there was a "moving away" from purchasing local produce. For a while, it seemed that everything that was "store bought" or pre-packaged was better.
As the nation began to consider health factors in various areas, the nation did, once again, move back towards purchasing and sustaining locally-grown produce.
Farm stands, farmer's markets, organically grown, all became the rage and remain so today.
Where is this going? I am not relating a thing to you that you don't know, and there's nothing worse than a semi-academic piece that is as dry as a piece of "burnt toast.”
I thought about just "what" I would recommend to someone that spoke and said 'north central Florida' in the way of locally grown and locally produced.
I will relate to you two items, and there are many more, TWO items, I would place, without reservation into the pile that says "home": gallberry honey and mayhaw jelly.
Gallberrry is part of the holly family, a wild shrub that puts on a tiny white blossom, and the bees love it. When we ate honey during the days of my upbringing, it was, 9.9 times out of 10, gallberry honey. Once in a while we might eat a little orange blossom honey a friend brought us from south Florida who deer hunted on our family property but not often, and we didn't like it as well. Once in a while a little bit of tupelo honey; good, but still not gallberry. Thomas Honey over in northern Columbia County produces some of the best gallberry honey around. It's almost as good as that our hives once rendered, almost.
The flatwoods of north Florida and south Georgia are full of gallberries. Gallberry honey, sweet, golden, drizzled over a hot biscuit or put into your hot tea to sweeten it. Honey is one of the only "true sweet" products that moves directly to the bloodstream, as it doesn't have to be digested; the bees do that job for us. Now, in this area there is a very small amount of Ogeechee Tupelo that blooms on the upper Suwannee, a good bit of it right behind my farm, but the majority of Ogeechee Tupelo that blooms for the making of Tupelo honey is over in the Florida panhandle along rivers and in swamps in that area. Several years ago, Florida filmmaker Victor Nunez made a movie starring Peter Fonda, entitled 'Yulees' Gold,” a story about a man who gathered and processed tupelo honey in Wewahitchka, Florida. Tupelo honey is good, good stuff, but I still prefer gallberry honey; always have, always will. That gallberry shrub had another purpose when I was growing up, you can “cure," let those long gallbrerry switches dry just right, and they are "tougher than whip leather.” Talk about something that could make a child dance when Mama or Daddy applied it on the legs and bottom, gallberry switches. We dreaded seeing Daddy take his pocket knife and cutting two or three to “cure." We knew what they were for. I have seen my Daddy take a gallberry switch, good and keen, and pop the head of a rattle snake off with it. I have witnessed that many times. I guess you could say the gallberry was multi-purpose in use. In the days before folks let grass grow in their yards, and this was done to keep fire away from houses, yards in this area were "swept" with gallberry switches, bundles of them.
Another plant that grows prolifically, though not as plentiful are mayhaws. Mahaws grow mostly in boggy and swampy areas. The mayhaws reach full maturation at this time of the year, and they are a pretty fruit but don't eat them alone; bitter as gall until you squeeze the juice put enough white sugar to it, heat it, add sure jell and make mayhaw jelly, and "My word,” culinary miracle, food of the gods. I could eat it on top of dried pine straw or hay. I am over-exaggerating just a bit, but not much. The color, the taste, everything about it is "off the chart." We gathered mayhaws by spreading sheets under the mayhaw trees, beating the trees with long fishing poles, picking the sticks and dried leaves "trash" out of the mayhaws. This was the way. One more thing, if anyone ever takes the time to make a jelly cake for you with 16 or 18 thin layers for you, slathered with mayhaw jelly, and they gift you with that cake, they love you. No question, absolutely love you.
So much of what I am writing is so foreign to so many folks, but gallberry honey and mayhaw jelly were both wonderful, delicious, and treasured items in the days of my childhood. They were foods utilized by everyone, no matter the race, color or creed. The wonderful nectar of one native plant and the fruit of another helped create great honey, great jelly, marvelous memories. I can still see the beautiful jars of mayhaw jelly kept in the pantry at our home and in the home of my paternal grandmother, and I can still taste the explosion of flavor that is mayhaw jelly and gallberry honey. Great memories of locally grown, locally produced, a legacy and litany of love and taste and goodness shared with friends and family here in our home "Around the Banks of the Suwannee.”
During these troubled days of pandemic, allow your mind to drift on the goodness of our land, its beauty, and its bounty and give thanks for it. In the words of the late Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, "Keep the Faith Baby!!" and, from me to you, keep praying and don't lose HOPE.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace ,and, above all, lots of love and laughter.
Taste the sweetness of our area, try some gallberry honey and mayhaw jelly. You'll be glad you did.