Our forefathers went through brutal times carving out the State of Florida. Subsisting on whatever food they could find, and then determining by trial and error (sometimes fatally) which ones could be made palatable, they provided for their families and helped to make Suwannee County (as well as Florida) what it is today. Today we complete our look at Cracker food.
There are a variety of words that are still used by some Florida “Crackers” (vegans beware!):
Chitlins: hog innards, cleaned and cooked.
Cooter: a softshell turtle still served by the Yearling Restaurant in Cross Creek.
Corn pone: a cake made from cornmeal batter using milk instead of water and deep fried.
Fat back: fatty meat from a hog’s back. It is cut up into small pieces to flavor beans and greens. It is also used to make lard, or can be roasted crispy and eaten like popcorn.
Hominy: whole grains of white corn soaked in lye and boiled.
Perloo (also spelled “perlo”, “purloo” and “pilau”; called “paella” in South Florida and Spanish-speaking locations, and “jambalaya” in Louisiana): a one-dish meal of meat and rice cooked together (around Suwannee County, chicken seems to be the favored meat).
Piney woods rooter: a feral hog. Crackers trap, pen, and fatten them up with corn before killing them for food.
Scrub chicken: another name for gopher tortoises.
Swamp cabbage: the heart of the Sabal palm, cut into chunks and boiled. It was deemed a Cracker delicacy by many.
While reading through some of my source documentation, I happened to come across a recipe of sorts for gopher gumbo in a volume of natural history from the early 1900s. I found it interesting from a historical standpoint and wished to pass it on. As gopher tortoises are currently protected by State law, please don’t actually try this…
“…The fame of the gopher, however, rests not upon its habits which are interesting from the standpoint of the naturalist, but just as with the blue point, or pompano, or canvas-back, it is famous because the flesh has been found to be a delicacy. Whoever has visited the Southland, and has not yet eaten ‘gopher gumbo’, has not yet been initiated into the art of good eating. This far-famed dish consists of a soup thickened with mucilaginous pods of okra, and contains so much meat of the gopher that it perhaps would be more appropriate to call it a ‘stew’”.
More history next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at email@example.com or 386-362-0564.