Farming in Florida included the cultivated foods of corn, beans, squash and pumpkin to name a few. Native American also introduced new words such as succotash, squash, opossum, hickory, pecan, raccoon, cougar and hominy. The gastronomic excitement continued to flourish, as various cooking methods were developed in order to incorporate new foods into their diets.
When my husband Jack leaves for the market he proclaims, “I’m going hunting and gathering now.” Living off the land sounds so exciting and adventurous, but procuring the foodstuff for this simple diet demanded an enormous workload, and the results were not always the same, feast or famine was the “Special of the Day”.
As enticing as foraging in the wild is, with my limited knowledge I would rather be safe than sorry and stick with what I know, so I planted a tiny backyard garden. We had some successes and some dismal failures. The watercress and Datil peppers were difficult to maintain, but tomatoes, collards, carrots, eggplant and the trinity of corn, beans and squash were much easier. The amount of work involved in gardening does make the fresh market more attractive.
From sleighing alligators in the wild to taming weeds of the wilderness, early man evolved right along with the foodways of Florida. Throwing meat on or in the flames progressed to smoking foods above the fire and the barboca would one day be replaced with gas grills and electric smokers. Later foods would be combined to create nutritious and delicious all day supplies with soups and stews. These meals were left hanging over the fire in animal skins or stomach pouches. Another pre-pottery method for combing foods was to dig a hole in the ground, line it with leaves or animal skins and add boiling stones for cooking. The menu varied from north to south Florida as these indigenous people cooked seasonal foods with natural resources. An all day savory stew in North Florida was just as welcome as a fish soup in South Florida. Smoked fish, roasted oysters, venison, wild turkey, conch and shark were some of the common protein choices.
APALACHEE VILLAGE STEW
Contents varied based on what women gathered, men hunted and children collected. After a day of gathering nuts, picking berries, hunting game, or just foraging and fishing one of the easiest ways to prepare a meal for everyone involved was to put it all in one big pot. Growing up in a wooded area in north Florida we often had a campfire going by the lake where we dreamed of catching fish and cooking it for dinner.
But our parents’ pantry was often the easier way to procure ingredients for dinner in the wild. With a pot on a grate over a fire we added our favorite meats and vegetables, or whatever we could round up. This included ground beef, which we cooked first, then added a variety of canned vegetables such as corn, baked beans and lima beans. Sometimes we put potatoes in the hot coals to cook and then someone would run back up to the house for butter, salt and pepper. Delicious outdoor dining and I am sure the environment added to the taste of our campfire stew. This recipe for stew reflects old and new with the conveniences of today.
2 strips bacon
2 turkey legs
1 pound boneless turkey cutlet
6 spring onions, chopped
1 pound cooked ground beef or leftover steak chopped or beef jerky
4 roasted ears of corn
1 medium butternut squash, seeds removed and cut into chunks
2 cups green baby lima beans, frozen
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon sea salt
In a wide deep pot, cook bacon over medium high heat until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve for garnish.
Place one teaspoon bacon drippings into a large roasting pan evenly distributed for later use.
Cook turkey legs and cutlet in pot with remaining drippings until brown on all sides.
Stir in green onions and cook 3 minutes.
Add water and bring to a boil.
Add sea salt and bay leaf and meat.
Cover and simmer 1 ½ hours.
Remove turkey legs and set aside until cool enough to handle then remove turkey meat and put back into pot along with cooked ground beef or other meat.
Simmer 30 minutes while preparing the vegetables.
Place squash in roasting pan with bacon drippings and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven, let cool enough to handle then remove outer skin; place in pot with meat.
Add roasted corn and lima beans and cover and simmer 30 minutes.
Garnish with reserved bacon before serving.
When I tested this recipe in the summer of 2011 my parents were visiting and thought the stew was delicious.