Food! Transcript

Food Chat!

Tyler

Welcome to the same time so we’re just gonna say reporting. Welcome to Florida. I’m your host Tyler with my grandmother from out on today’s podcast, we’re gonna be talking about Florida food, eating it, serving it and writing about i.

Gramel   

I like the eating part.

Tyler

In the first segment we’re gonna be talking about eating specifically Florida food. We’re going to be talking about our Aunt Annie’s alligators and what they and then we’re also going to be talking about white trash food.

In the second segment, we’re going to be talking to my mom, your daughter about what it’s been like to serve food in Florida. One of the reasons we wanted to highlight her besides the fact that she’s amazing is that during COVID I haven’t really seen a lot of stories from the perspective and voice of servers.

Then, in our third segment we’re going to be talking to author, editor and food journalist Janet Keeler. We’re going to be talking about what she’s been eating and quarantine what Florida food is because we know what it was – bbut now what it is, and then she’s gonna be talking to us about writing about Florida food and some really big food stories that are on her radar.

Gramel 

She’ll tell us some neat things I’m sure that we don’t know. And maybe we’ll tell her somebody.

Tyler

In this segment, we’re gonna be talking about one of our favorite topics, Florida food. Before we get this underway. I wanted to read something to you. Actually, it’s something you wrote. So earlier in the summer before a podcast was even a glimmer in our eye, I received a text from your number. It says: it’s great having Ty here. He helps with the chores, especially Roxy. He eats all the time. I’m jealous, but I put out a ham to thought and the refrig that should keep him a few days. He’s not eating sugar, just everything else. But at least my Magnum bars are safe. Do you remember writing this text? Did you mean to send it to me?

Gramel

Yeah, it was the truth.

Tyler

Oh, really? Were you putting me on notice that I’m eating too much? You think a ham can keep me a few days? Yeah. If you’re lucky.

Gramel 

Yeah, maybe you could be gone in a 24-hour period. But you do sleep. I don’t know. You know, there was one time I heard you in the kitchen at night.

Tyler

Okay, we can just leave it at that. Let’s get into the segment. There have been a lot of good home cooks in our family. I didn’t necessarily pick up that trait. Why don’t you talk to us about what you ate growing up in Florida.

Gramel

I grew up eating fish a lot because my uncle Tommy went fishing all the time and his family could only consume a certain amount and he shared them with everybody. And so daddy would clean them and Mama would cook him and my brother and I would eat the tail when I grew up eating was mullet. It’s a freshwater fish. That tail doesn’t have bones in it. That’s why mama started us with that. And then she made hush puppies from heaven. She made it in a cornmeal batter. And we always had baked beans, grits, and coleslaw. Now that was what she was supposed to have. And of course, iced tea which is the house wine in the South.

Back then – and I think now is because the stretch the meat – she would put green peppers, onions and celery in almost anything spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, potato salad. You name it. She added those things to it. Of course, not banana pudding, but Sunday’s were just a sight to behold after how she did all that we went to Sunday school in church religiously. And she made the best fried chicken. Colonel Sanders just don’t hold a candle dinner.

My daddy usually made the roast and then she always made a wonderful dessert. Then, we would have dessert during the week up until about Tuesday night it was, we had already consumed it all. Growing up, we went to Lake Butler which is called Lake Tarpon now and my aunts and Mama would all bring the most delicious food you can imagine and put them together they would bring all their best.

Tyler

I spent a lot of time with granny. And you when I was younger because mom was working as a waitress, so she had to be up early. So, I spent a lot of nights there. And I just remember granny cooking all the time and telling me all these stories about living on the farm and she was such a sweet person. I mean, I know a lot of people think they know sweet people, but she was a sweet person out of the sweet people.

Gramel 

Right? She was number one sweet person.

Tyler

Church lady, everybody liked her super friendly.

Gramel

No one ever had a bad word to say about granny.

Tyler

And I always make that joke because people wouldn’t be able to say that about me, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve just never known anyone like her who unanimously everyone couldn’t say anything bad about.

One of my favorite stories that I remember granny telling me is that she used to have to chop the heads off the chicken back in the day before they were plucked and then fried.

Gramel 

And I remember smelling scorched feathers because after she did all that she would boil them. And that is not a pleasant aroma, but the frying of the actual results of all that was a heavenly scent.

Tyler

That must have been nice for her when she didn’t have to kill the chickens and she could just buy them. I can’t imagine her chopping up a chicken head, but also I can because she did what she had to do. She always worked.

Gramel 

Her mother died when she was a young 16-year-old. She had brothers at home and a dad and she took over that being the mistress of the home.

Tyler

Tell them how her mom died. This is a famous family, true story.

Gramel 

My mom was coming home from that county fair that was always held in Largo for like 30 years, at least. Her mom and dad was ahead of her. And she was talking with a friend behind and she knew they weren’t walking as fast. And Bertha would turn around and say, Come on Lula. And she got hit by a car; it was a hit and run. And she got her leg just mangled. You gotta realize this was 80-90 years ago, they never found the person they had their suspicions, but nothing ever panned out. Four months after the accident, they had to amputate her leg and she died of infection.

That’s when mama took over cooking and cleaning. Her father and brothers were all helping with the farm and they got up early and they had a big breakfast and a big lunch and a big dinner. There was three of the boys And she told me that sometimes she felt responsible for what happened to her mother because she felt like she might have been looking back at mom and saying Hurry up Lula.

Tyler

That must have been really traumatizing for her to have her mom died that way. And then she always felt somewhat responsible for it.

Gramel 

My mother had a gift of gab, I don’t know where that would come from. Why did my grandpa let her walk on the side of the road?

Tyler

Well, I just can’t believe that happened in broad daylight and nobody stopped or anything like that.

Gramel 

And you know, is a small town everybody knew everybody and so yeah, like how could they not find the car and my uncles had an attitude. They were wonderful but nobody pushed the around but they never found out.

Tyler

I would guess that not many people had cars.

Gramel  

They were walking home from the fair, which meant they did not have a car. They probably had some type of tractor, but they didn’t have a car.

Tyler

And then granny started to work in the cafeteria.

Gramel 

She started that year I started to kindergarten and all the way up until I would say I was out of school because I used to date one of the boys that was on her bus she, she also became a school bus driver, but she could do both. She would drive to a school stop work in the cafeteria that started more like after my dad died, and she needed more money than just the cafeteria. So she did both.

Tyler

I know I wish I would have been able to talk to her more about working in the cafeteria because I feel like that’s such a big job cooking so much food every day for the kids.

Gramel 

It’s the hardest job I ever had. I kept a job and after three months.

Tyler

What kind of food were they serving back in the day?

Gramel 

Well, they had a reputation county wind for the peanut butter cookies they made and if I had a nickel for every time I was asked, Did I have the recipe for those peanut butter cookies. I would probably be at the Riviera, and not in my dining room, and back then you always had either tuna or macaroni and cheese on Fridays.

Tyler

What kind of meat were they serving?

Gramel 

Macaroni and cheese with hamburger on top. They must have put paprika in a sauce and had that over the top. And then they had was way before the days of fish sticks. But they did have some kind of fish once in a while.

Tyler

Well, I just know granny was such a good cook. I bet like those meals were pretty awesome.

Gramel 

I couldn’t believe it when my children started in elementary school and I told them, they’re going to have the best food ever. And they would come home, and I’d say how was your food? And they would complain how horrible it was. Because I figured their experience with that cafeteria food was going to be the same as mine and it wasn’t and never was. Back then, they could bring food home leftover food. That’s against the rules regulations now. So probably at least two nights a week, we had leftovers from the school cafeteria. And she’d bring them home and these great big tin cans, probably five- or 10-pound things.

Can we talk about Aunt Annie?

Tyler

Sure.

Gramel

Aunt Annie used to get the scraps leftover from the food she made in the cafeteria and put them in tin cans and take them home to feed her dogs. And her alligator. She probably fed her dog, first. OK, well, she’d feed her family first. Then, she would go out to the end of her little wooden pier. She would hit these cans up against those boards, and here would come usually just one or two alligators. She would throw the contents of those tin cans into the water, and they would eat and have good time and leave.

And she had three boys and my brother that swim in her pond, which later became a lake because it got bigger and bigger. Thankfully, the gators never, ever bothered anybody. And they never bothered the dogs. I’d go down and visit with my Aunt Annie because we only lived a half a block from her. It would be dark before I got done talking, and I would leave to go home. She’d say, now, Margie, just shuffle your feet to scare the alligators. And you won’t even hear or see them. And I’d say I don’t think so Aunt Annie. She’d yell for her husband Frank to come walk out with me. So, alligators were a part of their life. And there was never a bad scene.

They tell you do not feed alligators. But I think since she fed them every night, seven days a week, basically at the same time – and she fed them wonderful cafeteria leftovers. They were content. They didn’t have to be hungry. They weren’t probably ever hungry.

I never swam in the pond, and neither did her daughter Sissy. We didn’t want that pond water in our hair. I didn’t want squishy dirt in my feet. And I was not into sharing my swimming space with alligators.

Tyler

A lot of people might not be able to readily recognize what Florida food is. What is Florida food to you someone who has lived in Florida their whole life?

Gramel 

Well, it’s fish, and I love swamp cabbage.

Tyler

What is that for those who don’t know?

Gramel

Swamp cabbage is cabbage, and they have a leaf of cabbage and then they put a helping of some type of sherbet usually green, and then peanuts on top of it. And then they cover the top of it with a bunch of shredded cabbage and then that all males it’s more of a desert. And you can only get these at places like Homosassa .I went through a period that for probably 15 years, whenever we went out – about every other time, we’d go to someplace that had it and it was always a fish place that would have it.

Florida food is also turkey and dressing. My mother’s dressing and it was nothing like people that were coming from the north. They had stuffing, they didn’t have dressing and my mother utilized fruit a lot. She would have peach turnovers and blueberry cobbler. They were good, good, good. She used peaches a lot in our desert. My mother made hoecake which I think basically is the same batter used for biscuits, but you fry it in a cast iron skillet and you turn it like a pancake but it’s about an inch thick, hoecake when it was leftover became a part of dessert that you would put a fruit on top of or you dip your hoecake into the fruit juice that cooked out.

Tyler

Because there were a lot of orange groves.

Gramel 

Yes, back then we had oranges a lot. My mother made a great Ambrosia and mother made Apple salad. Back then, you had more fruit and vegetables and legumes than actual meat. Meat was a specialty They had to do little tricks because they didn’t necessarily have the money to buy as much meat as they wanted, or they were getting stuff off the farm.

Tyler

And this is in our part of Florida, which is central, in the middle of the state on the west coast. The farther south you go, there’s more Cuban influence, Caribbean, there’s a whole different cuisine there. So, you know, I think each part of the state has its own kind of thing. So, this is where we grew up, and what you grew up eating.

Gramel 

Eating was an event, and we everybody had to be there for a meal, and that’s when you fellowshipped and if nothing else, we ended a meal with some kind of bread. And so she made biscuits, she made cornbread, she made corn muffins. Daddy like to have a little sweet at the end of his meal. And my mother did too, but then she’d have to have a little meat or something to take away the sweet. Then she’d have to have a little more sweet; it was kind of cute.

Oh, this is one of the most important things, when my mother had any leftover bread period. And if we didn’t need it that way, she would make what we called egg bread. And nowadays is known as French toast. But mama would make it out of any leftover bread. A bread became bread pudding on the weekend. What I make it out of mostly is when we go out to eat, and they serve bread, and we don’t need all the bread. Sometimes we don’t eat any of it. And I take it home and I’m making bread out of it. And my boys know about egg bread.

Tyler

One of the dishes that I remember granny making that you make that’s really simple, but that I really like is the tomatoes, the saltines, and mayonnaise.

Gramel 

Yes, called cracker salad.

Tyler

I was going to a potluck one day and I was talking about making this because I really like it. It’s really good. And one of my friends I was talking about it and she called that white trash food.

Gramel 

There’s poor white trash and white trash is fine. That’s poor but honest and clean people. Poor white trash is richer people that just have bad manners. It’s okay to be called white trash.

Tyler

It caught me off guard because it was something that I grew up eating, but also that it’s just really good. So who cares?

Gramel 

Yeah, there’s hardly ever any leftover cracker salad, fresh tomatoes and saltine crackers. Some people use Ritz crackers. I like the saltines period, and you crush the saltines at the last minute where they don’t get soggy. I sliced my tomatoes, you just kind of cut them up in chunks over a paper towel with a lot of the juice runs out of it. That’s kind of important. That’s the only thing you have to be exact about.

Tyler

That story just sticks out to me because it was one of the first time that I was really thinking about Oh, you could like a dish, someone could have some kind of weird stigma about it being white trash or some kind of class thing. Basically. I ended up not making the dish for the potluck, but I really wish I did. I was in a different place back then. Now, I would have.

Gramel

Yeah, you’re not supposed to let the way people feel about something interfere with how you feel. Cracker salad came from my Mary, mom’s one and only sister and I think that was a way to stretch a meal they would say stretch a meal or stretch the meat is farmers usually always add tomatoes. And after a certain decade, you always had mayonnaise in the refrigerator. And it was a great way to use up maybe older saltine crackers. She also would take cottage cheese and sprinkle it with a package of jello. That was a staple and almost always had those fixins as she called them around.

Tyler

I know we could talk about food all day. Yes. Is there anything else you’d like to end on?

Gramel 

I love Christmas time and the special food we had Daddy once a year would buy one of these great big huge peppermint sticks and he made Christmas so much fun. The anticipation the stories you would tell in the peppermint stick. My mother did all the work the cleaning because she was always a busy bee. But dad, we’d all come around the kitchen table and eat take a great big huge butcher knife and whack a piece and my brother and I would always hope that our piece would be a bigger piece. We grew up happy, healthy and satisfied. I’m gonna say it was the love that the people I knew put into their food to that made it special and they cook from the heart. It was not a job to them it they look forward to doing it.

Tyler

So, what are you going to make us for lunch then?

Gramel 

We are going to have fried potatoes from a leftover baked potato and probably some tomato and okra. Oh, but the main thing is going to be onions and baked potato. Well fried potatoes. I don’t know they won’t look pretty.

Mom Chat!

Tyler

In our last segment we talked about the food that we have eaten growing up and, in this segment, we are going to hear from my mom who has been a waitress in Florida for several decades. My mom is so impressive to me with her work ethic. She was a single mother while I was young, and she always worked. So much to say about her, but I think I’m just gonna let her speak for herself.

Tyler

When did you start being a waitress?

Mom

When I was 25. It was called Maria’s Kitchen. Tiny little family restaurant. It was fun. I was young, I liked it. I liked the quick cash stuff. The boss was really a bad man mean to his mother.

Tyler

So, then what made you leave that restaurant?

Mom

A guy had been trying to get me to work at his restaurant and he gave me a good schedule. And I took a leap. And then I worked there for five years. I liked it there. I made a very good friend there. A sister friend. I went to work one day and didn’t have a job, because they didn’t tell me. So, then I got in my car and I thought, well I have to work, I’m single mother. And one of my friends was working at a restaurant and I went interviewed there. I did take a week off. And then I went, first place that went when they hired me, and I’ve been there ever since. Twenty-three years. I get up at 5:30 and I am at work at a quarter to seven. We just changed hours. We’ve opened it seven for 22 years

Tyler

What do you think makes a good server?

Mom

Remembering a person’s name means a lot to them, it really does not. I have tricks with myself, so I remember a person’s name.

Tyler

What is it like being a waitress?

Mom

It is mostly good, but there’s bad, too. Rude customers. Some bosses don’t care. Sometimes they sell the restaurants without telling. Customers are ugly 20% out of time. Well, and it just takes one rude customer to set your day like that. Seems like that’s the day that everybody’s gonna be rude.

Tyler

What are some of the weirder things people have asked in their orders?

Mom

Just the way people order breakfast. They just want their eggs with no brown on them. I don’t want my toast dark. The cooks act like we’re eating it. I mean it, they give me a hard time. Many of the problems at work are customers. I try to leave it right there. I have made many very, very good friends.

Customers have been angels. I have run into a lot of generous people generous to my boys generous to me. We have regular customers that I see every day, but a lot of them are dying off and we’re getting new customers. With the COVID, they’re not coming out and they shouldn’t; I’m glad they’re not coming out for their health. But I miss them.

Tyler

Being a waitress is physical work. I don’t think maybe some people don’t understand how physical that is. Actually is

Mom

Yes, it is very physical – lifting the plates, putting them on your arm and using a tray. I’ve had to have back surgery. I’ve fallen. I’ve busted my head. I went down on my knee, which I had knee surgery. So yes, very physical down on your body. But it’s kind of good that I move around a lot too, because I don’t know now at my age what to do with myself as far as job goes, because I need to move around. I can’t sit.

Tyler

So when COVID came your boss shut down the restaurant for six weeks and what was your experience like trying to apply for unemployment in Florida?

Mom

I spent two weeks in a row at least 40 hours a week and you would get almost there and then kicked out.  You have to start all over. It was just the worst. Like you’re just hitting your head against the wall. Now, it was really hard and then it took time. I finally got my paperwork through and you know, then then they tell us stay home and get used to stay at home and all of a sudden after six weeks, it’s like we’re opening back up. Even though the pandemic is still there, you know, you got to go to work. I think we opened too soon. I think we should have waited a little bit a couple more weeks.

Tyler

Because not too many people were coming in. You weren’t getting your full time hours because of it.

Mom

I’m still not getting my hours from my full-time work, or the money is very bad now to the lack of people coming in. There’s been several days that I haven’t. I’ve made shockingly low Money Never in my entire working.

Tyler

He was one of the first people right when they could open back up.

Mom

He went right back up. But then they’re saying, you know, it’s time. It’s time. You got to listen to what people want, especially when you work like I do. I didn’t have any, any break, I had to go back to work. And it was just like, you know, my boss wasn’t letting us know what was going on during that time. And if he was even going to be able to open up that restaurant back up, but then we got part of the cares package. And so we learned like Friday before we went back to work on me Tuesday.

Tyler

How do you feel now wearing a mask and all of that at work? Because you said there was no air conditioning this week?

Mom

Yeah, the air it’s been it’s been broken. And just so hot and just really, I don’t mind wearing a mask. You come in contact with people. But it’s just hard to get used to moving around trying to breathe in sweat, perspiring, glistening.

Tyler

Well, I know how hard you work and it’s a really tough job being a server. I’m concerned for you having to be at work. But I’m glad that you’re taking precautions. And unfortunately, you have to do what you have to do when it comes to work and everything, right?

Mom

I do. If anybody could help me figure out what to do for another job, I’d really appreciate it. Because my body is wearing out every day. I say, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. And I think that’s something that you were saying earlier is you’ve been a server for a long time now and it can be hard to think of doing another job.

Janet Keeler Chat!

In the last segment we heard from my mom and her story about being a waitress and what it’s looking like for her during COVID and now we are going to chat with Janet Keeler. About what she’s been eating and quarantine major food stories that are on her radar, and we’re going to be talking about her cookbook. I love cookbooks.

Gramel

I love I get a cookbook. It’s to me. That’s one of my biggest entertainments and I love to watch cooking shows, but then I make them my own after making them their way.

Janet

I was saying to my husband the other day, I don’t think our pantry has been so low because I’ve been cooking so much more since we’re home all the time. I’m like, oh, here’s a can of beans. Here’s the thing that you’re not I kind of had a lot of stuff in that pantry. That was like not being used. So, I feel a little bit more resourceful. I guess it’s forcing me to be more resourceful.

Tyler

What kind of stuff have you been cooking recently?

Janet

You know, it’s so funny to think about like my mother who didn’t really like to cook but she was a stay at home mom and that’s what she did. So, she cooked every night and we always had some sort of meat, a vegetable, and a salad. She had these chubby kids, so we didn’t get a lot of mashed potatoes or anything like that. If it was mashed potatoes, it was really turnips or something awful. I always in my mind, even still, if it’s not three things, it’s not really dinner. So, I’ve been making a lot of stuff like that baked chicken, a vegetable and salad, all that kind of stuff. And so I’m trying. Right now, I have been doing a thing on my Instagram where I’m making recipes from cookbooks written by African American authors.

There’s actually a hashtag out there called Black chef’s matter. I think I’ve made maybe like four of them, just kind of drawing attention. I’m waiting for someone to say how come you’re not sharing the recipes and then I’m going to say because I want you to buy their cookbook. I’ve been making more fish than I usually do a lot of shrimp. I’ve been on this hummus kick. I’ve been making a lot of hummus. I’m trying not to do a ton of carbs.

Tyler

You didn’t make any homemade bread when people were doing a sourdough?

Janet

Oh, actually, you know what I made it several times. I made bagels when I could find yeast. I was panicked because I couldn’t find yeast. I did that about three times. And I thought, Okay, that’s good. I haven’t done the sourdough, though. Because then I just eat it all. My son lives with his girlfriend down in Lakewood Ranch. And a couple Saturdays early on, I made stuff and we went down there with masks on and handed it to them through the car window. So, I gave some stuff to them. But I just don’t have many people to give stuff to.

Tyler

We were talking about cookbooks earlier. And I know that you have one. What was that process like for choosing the recipes?

Janet

It was a cookie book and that that grew out of a project that we did at the Tampa Bay Times. At that point, it had been going on about 10 years. We had a Christmas cookie issue every year, and we put a call out and like in August, and readers would send in their favorite recipes. So, we would pick maybe 30 of them to test and we’d run a couple dozen in the paper. So, the cookbook was really a collection of those recipes. And I added more to it. So that’s what that was about.

And it was, it was a really fun process. But it took a long time. I mean, most of the recipes had already been tested because we tested them for the paper. And I gave the people credit, you know, where we got the recipes, even though I knew some of them were like all over the internet. They weren’t really their original recipes. And that’s okay. I mean, people understand that. So I did go through every recipe, I think there was 150 and wrote what they call headnotes. So I wrote something about each recipe, just a little bit of like a tip or something like that. And that took quite a long time to do.

They say if you’re gonna write a cookbook, you better be in love with the topic because it’s going to take a couple years. By the time it was tested and edited and you know, produced everything it takes a while.

Gramel 

I didn’t realize you did that because I looked forward to that every year and sees in the paper guys, they really some basics, but then there were some you had never thought to put those ingredients together. So I was a fan.

Janet

Good. I’m glad to hear that. You know, I suppose we specifically looked for recipes that you couldn’t find anywhere. But it was like I wasn’t gonna run snickerdoodles or, you know, something like that or just a plain peanut butter cookie because that’s so you know, it’s everywhere.

Gramel 

But I always liked that dried fruit ones.

Janet

You know what, I like those two, but I wouldn’t think I would. We were like this cookie tastes better than it should with the dried cherries.

You know, it’s funny how that whole project started. My very first year that I was the food editor was 2000. And around the fall of that year, I got a call. Maybe it was closer to Christmas. I got a call from an older man whose wife had had died. She’d been gone a few years, and they had made a cookie together, which were just really like little fruit cakes. They had all those dried fruits and nuts and stuff in them. And he couldn’t bring himself to make them for the several years after she died because it was just, it was just too sad for him. So, he decided that he was going to he was going to do it this year. And he had a question for me. This was in the days, we used to get a lot of phone calls from readers, you know, once the internet came along, they went there to get their questions answered. But you know, for a long time, we were always settling, you know, bar bets in the middle of the night and stuff, too.

He wanted to know something about cookie sheets, what kind of cookie sheets should he make? But we kept talking about this, you know, he was going to finally do it by himself. And then he was sort of crying on the phone, and then I was crying. I mean, it was a really, really beautiful conversation. And I gave him whatever information he had and a few weeks later I got a package in the mail and he sent me some cookies. Oh, like six or seven of them in this little box. It was so sweet. And it was just at that point, I kind of knew this somewhere, I guess. But it really hit home that the cookies were just more than sugar, flour eggs.

I know that from things like Christmas cookies and things, how special they are to people. That’s when that project started. It was him that started that and on that we would talk every now and then over the next years because he would have a question about some casserole or something. And then I didn’t hear from him anymore and I was kinda like, Oh, you know, because he was an older guy and he had died but when we did the cookbook, I tracked down his daughter or something in Tennessee to make sure she got a copy of it. He was the start of that whole tradition at the time.

I remember my colleague that was sitting, we sat in a pod so we are always real close together. She kept looking at me like are you crying? What’s going on? We’re just having a good cry here over, because it was really sweet and it was it was very emotional for him.

Gramel 

I’m a chocoholic, though my favorites were chocolate chip cookies and m&m cookies. And then my friend gave me this recipe for fruit cake cookies. Now, I love fruit cake, but I didn’t know how that would translate into a cookie. I mean, we’re better than anything with chocolate in it because it’s just so unique and very rich. And there’s a lot of people in this world that don’t care for a fruit gate. They say it’s dry.

Tyler

She loves fruit cake!

Gramel 

I may have a piece later left in the refrigerator. They last forever, right?

Tyler

We were talking a lot about Florida food because you know, that’s what she grew up with and what I grew up with, but I’m wondering for someone who’s never been to Florida, how would you describe Florida food or what is Florida food to you.

Janet

Well, it’s interesting because the state is so varied. I mean, you could say Florida food is, black beans and rice and you know, Cuban food from South Florida for sure.  I guess we think of Florida food as a lot of citrus and more light kinds of things, even though like you mentioned that you know, that chess pie is kind of heavy, but I do think of it as more light. I certainly think of it as a lot of seafood because they’re just surrounded by water. So I know friends that I have like in Michigan, they love to come down here because of the seafood and we’re always like, well we can’t get any good seafood but when you’re from Michigan, you’re getting Lake perch, and all kinds of frozen stuff you know, so I think for sure seafood. There’s a really strong melding of flavors here too, because you get like that North Florida very southern kind of stuff, grits, you know, greens, those kinds of things. But I think down here, we don’t, I don’t feel that as much here, the strength of that. So a big melting pot in a lot of ways.

Gramel 

I would call this that I was raised on rustic, which is nice, simple. I know one of the things Tyler likes that my Aunt Mary used to make all the time, I’m sure came because it was leftover. She had this and she had that and she didn’t have much else. We call it a cracker salad, and it’s cut up tomatoes, bite size, and at the last minute you crumble with your hand some saltine crackers, and you add mayonnaise. I always say my mother good corned beef and make a banquet out of it with delicious onion gravy, brown onion gravy, and rice. Or if she had extra time, she always made mashed potatoes.

We never knew we were poor. I figured it out because we had credit down at the local grocery store. You know, we were clean and we ate good. And back then we ate legumes a lot. Mm hmm. And then when I joined Weight Watchers many decades later, I found out they were very, very good for you.

Instead of calling our food simple, I’d call it rustic – connotation is a little bit better.

Janet

You’re right about that, about words – how we kind of oh it’s cracker or it’s poor people food. I don’t think of Florida food as fancy, you know like sauces or French or something. It’s interesting, the state is so geographically spread, so if you look at like from where we are south, the growing season is upside down here compared to the north. I mean we’re not growing tomatoes in August here the way there are New Jersey. So I think when so many people have migrated down here that’s been difficult for them to get used to. I used to get calls you know, in the middle of the summer from readers who would say I can’t go to find any good tomatoes. But it was not tomato season here. It was mango. So I think that’s been kind of hard for some people to get used to.

Southern Cooking, which is more typical in North Florida, is very much dependent on what’s in the garden. Lots of fresh stuff. People grow things in their gardens there. We’re a little different. We have maybe an orange tree or avocado trees. There are gardens but it’s a little different here.

Tyler

That reminds me of a story that a student worked on about the mangoes and St. Pete – about the development in the area.  

Janet

Yeah, in Midtown. I think she did that story on sort of the last mango trees or something in Midtown. I noticed in Midtown St. Pete, there are a lot of restaurants that sell crab and crab in general in my mind is kind of an expensive food. You know, if you go to the grocery store and you get that little container of lump crab, it’s like 14 bucks. Crab is kind of expensive, but then I realized you know, seafood is free food. If you’ve got a fishing pole or you know, you see people at bridges I mean, that’s free, that’s free food. So I think there’s a tradition in that in the African American community, especially in Midtown of seafood, because it could be you could, you could eat pretty good if you knew how to fish. So, there’s fewer places to do that now. So it’s interest, different time for sure.

Tyler

We kind of have these debates now about what is and what isn’t Florida food, but for a lot of people their regional food, to them, is what they ate growing up. Here, there seems to be more arguments.

Janet

I think it’s because we’re such a state of transients. So many people have come here from other places, and that’s what built it. I mean, you know, from where we are probably south for years and years, there were no people because there was no air conditioning, you know, once air conditioning came, and that sort of changed Florida big time because people would come, but they would come from up north, even for the winter like they do now. But people with money would bring their cooks with them, so they were still eating that same old stuff that they were eating up north.

Yeah, I think it’s a different I think you’re right. I think you’re right it was what you ate as a kid. And so if you are, you know, a Cuban family that grew up in South Florida, you’re going to have a different idea of what Florida food is. I first came here from California to visit a friend in the 80s. I had my first Cuban sandwich. And I thought, wow, this is something else. I mean, it was so good. It was like the pressed one. It was so good. So, I always think of that as Florida food to me. Cuban sandwiches. I would say most Floridians know the Cuban sandwich I know it’s spread throughout the country. But to me it seems very, you know, Floridian and then you get here and you find out what was maybe invented in Ybor City or maybe it was Miami. That wasn’t totally Cuban because it’s a mixture of Cuban things, but also Spanish. So, it’s interesting, but it’s such a mishmash of food here and people would definitely debate about that.

Tyler

The Cuban sandwich is a point of pride.

Janet

Yeah, for sure. But even now, if I go somewhere and I see it on a menu, and I look at it and it says tomatoes and mayonnaise I’m always like, as a real Cuban no Cuban sandwich has tomatoes and mayonnaise on it.

Tyler

So, where’s your favorite Cuban from them? An insider’s tip.

Janet

I’m a big fan of the Cuban at Bodega on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. I think that’s a really good one. My thing with the Cuban is I don’t like a lot of meat on it. I don’t like them when they get really thick because it’s you know, here anyway, the more Cuban has roast pork salami, and I guess just like kind of ham on it, just you know, so if that gets too thick to me it’s too salty and too much. I don’t want that much on there. Theirs is nice and flat and they press it really good. So, I think they have a great one. They have a really good one there. That couple that owns that just opened a restaurant down the street called Baba which is Mediterranean. And that’s really yummy too. They have a good touch on things, but I like that one. The bread is everything. All right, that Cuban bread.

Gramel 

The one at Columbia is delicious. At a place I used to work, they all swore by the Cuban sandwiches at Publix.

Janet

I have to say I bought a couple of Cubans there that were in there, kind of grab and go. So I’ve just kind of moved pressing myself. So I opened it up when I got at home because I’m like, Where’s the mustard? So I put some mustard in it. I put an extra piece of Swiss cheese which you know, isn’t very Cuban, but they have Swiss cheese in them. So that’s another – the Cuban is kind of a mixture of all kinds of things. And I pressed it, it was pretty good.

Tyler

Publix does have some good sandwiches; I have to have to give them credit there sometimes. I wanted to ask you for folks that may not know all that food writing entails. What does food writing encompass?

Janet

I think most people look at it right away as it’s about recipes, and it’s about cookbooks or it’s about cooking. I look at it more as really writing about the way we live but also the intersection of politics and health and the economy and culture and all that kind of stuff. In my food writing class, we look at what I call a reported food story, meaning it has to do with food, but it also has to do with news, what’s going on in the world and that kind of thing. The Associated Press won a Pulitzer a few years back for a series of stories they did, they found that people that were harvesting shrimp in Southeast Asia were being kept in cages, and you know, that seafood that they were harvesting, basically, as enslaved people was winding up on our on our dinner tables here in the United States. So to me, that’s a food story. That’s a you know, it’s not your classic Oh, Christmas cookies or anything like that. But it’s important, important information.

It’s really a really broad topic. So, I think that that you know, can be extremely serious, because think of it, there’s not much more intimate out there than what we put in our bodies and what we eat. When you think about, you know, the FDA and the regulations and who’s like the, you know, people in the field. There were a lot of stories after Trump was first elected and the immigration, anti-immigration, talk of farmers in all over the country that we’re leaving food in the fields, because so many immigrants and so many farmworkers were afraid to – even if they even if they were in the United States legally, and they had the proper documentation or the legal documentation –  they were really afraid to show up at work because they would get snared in one of these roundups or something.

So I look at as a really broad spectrum. I would say my lane when I was at the Tampa Bay Times – I did a lot of home cooking stories. I don’t have any professional cooking training, I have taken cooking classes here and there, but I have no degree or you know, certification in anything. So, I would say my lane was really home cooking. I did a lot of stuff on home cooking. And I very much like to write about when things went wrong in my kitchen. Because I thought there was just too much writing about hey, look, it’s a beautiful cake you can make and look at all these things. And then I would try it and I thought I, you know, I’m like you I can’t do this. This is crazy. So that was kind of where I came down in teaching food writing in it. We really look at a lot of different kinds of right.

Tyler

You were talking about the shrimp and the food chain and how it made me think of I spent time with some cattle ranchers to talk about how that their industry has changed. And one of the Cowboys told me a story of people who drove on to the property wanting to buy a cow to kill it there and have the meat because they wanted to know where their meat was coming from. They wanted to see it being cut.

Janet

And what did he say?

Tyler

He said that’s not how that works. You can’t just chop up a cow right here.

Janet

Right because they don’t have a slaughterhouse, and there’s fewer and fewer slaughterhouses in the United States, and which is why if they get hit, one of which they have been hit by this virus and people can’t work, it kind of shuts things down. Remember, there was that panic that we were going to not be able to get bacon. So that goes back to that idea of people don’t really understand where their food comes from how it works. You know, when people say, I don’t want to buy fruit from you know, Mexico anymore, and you’re like, Well, okay, then you’re not getting a lot of fruit. I mean, if you start looking at those little labels, we want cheap food. And that’s what’s happened. That’s what’s happened. You know, if we really had to pay the price of things So that’s fascinating, though, that someone came onto the property and said, buy that cow. Can you fix it up for us?

Tyler

And the way he told the story it was it was so you know, engrossing, but it made them think about changing their business model. Because I think, you know, farm to table became a really popular thing. I guess, still pretty popular. So they actually then started keeping the cows in Florida because they had to ship them to feed yards. They invested in a feed yard in Florida and they kept the cows in the state because people wanted locally sourced food. So, their agricultural model changed a little to meet the demand of how people’s food habits have changed.

Janet

Yeah, yeah. That’s interesting. That’s interesting.

Tyler

And these are like 70-year-old, you know, cowboys.

Janet

Yeah. And they know the business so intimately. It was probably shocking.

Gramel 

People used to eat cattle from their backyard. Mom and dad would go up to North Mart. I had cousins and my sister and this that and the other They’d come home with fresh meat. But you don’t do that anymore. Anyway, it would probably cost you three times as much.

Janet

People don’t want to pay for stuff like that. Sometimes I think when my, my mother grew up on a farm in South Utah, and she absolutely hated it. My grandfather grew sugar beets and they didn’t ever have any money. And again, it’s like kind of like what you were saying she didn’t have any idea they were so poor. Until like years later. They always had food. You know, I think when you grew up in a rural area, we grew stuff, you had food, so you didn’t go without that way. But she used to say on Sundays, my grandmother would say, you know, Peter, will you go, we want to have chicken on Sunday dinner. So you go get a chicken and he’d have to kill it and do all this stuff for dinner. And he hated to kill anything. He was a very gentle guy. And he really didn’t want to do that. He used to always say, oh, couldn’t we have something else to be like, no, it’s Sunday, we’re having a chicken, but he’d have to go out and kill it. So, I mean, can you imagine like, that probably tasted great. You know, and I knew that they knew what it was eating, and it was right outside the door. Now, so many people, I think the fad has slightly faded of the backyard chickens. Like a few years ago, I was getting chickens and chickens. I don’t think people realize that they eventually they’re just like, ladies, they don’t have eggs anymore. They run their course.

Gramel 

I was talking about my mother, who didn’t have a mean bone in her body. And she would go out and ring a chicken’s neck and come in and then chop it off. My mother would go like this have like a lasso over her head. My mother never said, you know, damn. But she would ring a chicken’s neck. I don’t think I could do that.

Janet

I have no idea how you do that I would do that’s how you know and you think I’m just like a generation removed from somebody who knew how to do that.

Tyler

Granny was doing that when she was like a teenager too, you know? Yeah.

Janet

Probably not only do you know where your food comes from, but you understand kind of, I don’t know if this is the right word, but like this, the sacrifice are in a way, right that you know, the animals were raised and you know, they’re feeding you and you kind of understand that lifecycle.

Tyler

And so I know you’ve been covering Florida food for a while. What are some Florida food stories that you’re really interested in or that you think maybe more people should know about?

Janet

Well, the one I’m most fascinated with, I would say is the story of the mango in South Florida. So Florida doesn’t have any commercial Mango groves anymore. There were many here at some time but you know, Hurricane Andrew in 92 sort of wiped them out. They didn’t really come back because there were so much competition from Mexico and some other places that it was kind of dwindling anyway. But there’s a place in Coral Gables called the Fairchild tropical garden. And they have the world’s foremost authorities on mangoes there, and they propagate a lot of mangoes and they study mangoes around the world. They have actually propagated a lot of kinds there and have created these hybrids. So there’s a lot of mangoes, like if you think of like the famous mangoes or Tommy Atkins, the Hayden mango, they’re all named after people that lived in South Florida. So there’s a long connection. There’s one called the Fairchild which is named after David Fairchild, who was kind of a fruit and spice hunter that went around the world. And they’re all named after people that lived in South Florida. I think that’s amazing story. The Tommy Atkins I think is the most widely grown commercial mango in the world mostly in Mexico, but it’s named after a guy who is from Miami.

I don’t think people know the history so much of the mango, thousands of varieties of them. We go every year they’re not this year because unfortunately was cancelled. There’s a international mango festival at this tropical garden in July. And we always go there and there’s just people because Miami is such a such an international city. There’s people there from all around the world looking for their you know, looking for their special mangoes from their countries and stuff. So it’s fascinating. That’s a really interesting Florida story to me that has some just strange twists and turns. I know that mango festival I want to go there that sounds fantastic. So much fun.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Orlando might change course there’s a lot of interesting things with Orlando right now with the theme parks, you know, shutting down and all the jobs that have been lost there. But they also had a big influx of people from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They already had a pretty healthy Puerto Rican population there. So I’ll be interested to see like, how many more restaurants kind of pop up with that cuisine, how that might change things there. That’ll be interesting.

There’s a lot of immigrants in our fields and getting food, food to our table and not living in the best conditions and about having health care and stuff. And that kind of goes back to you know, health care in this country and how we don’t look out for people. As much as we should, with all that we have helped people. I think that’s a really scary thing. And I think COVID has definitely, I mean, it’s been there for a while, and I think people are paying attention to that. But it’s really it’s really laid bare some inequities. When you see in what populations it’s really affecting and people that you know, don’t have money because like some of us that are working at home, well yay for us. We’re lucky enough fortunate enough kind of jobs, we can work at home, there’s plenty of people, like you were saying your mom working in the restaurant, you can’t do that at home or you’re you know, working at Publix or something, you can’t do that at home. There’s a lot of people that are in that situation that don’t have the luxury of working at home. So we have to remember that

Gramel 

you are a very interesting person. And you’re, into so many different things there.

Janet

It was nice seeing you guys. We’ll talk soon. Keep in touch. Thank you look forward to it.

Tyler

All right, so that was our episode. We talked about food, which is our favorite

We hope that you get to cooking or eating or whatever brings you comfort. And if you have any recipes or any stories that you want to send us you can email it to us at AFloridaThing@gmail.com. Subscribe to the pod. We also have a newsletter. We hope that you have a happy and satisfied day and we hope that it’s sunny.

Gramel 

Or rainy. We need the rain.

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