What did the first Floridians eat and how did they prepare their foods?
Why and how did regional foods develop throughout the state?
The answers go beyond the Seminole Indians and European exploration, back to an ancient prehistoric culture when man first walked among mastodons and mammoths. Over 12,000 years ago, when the coastline of Florida was at times at least 50 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, he brought with him the implements and knowledge to hunt, gather and cook.
Regional foods were utilized with cooking methods based on the environment to create a natural selection of culinary specialties.
It most likely took thousands of years for the diet of early man to shift from the larger mammoths to smaller animals along with nuts, berries and other wild plant foods.
The change in climate along with the abundance of fresh water helped to change the diet of early man.
By the time European explorers arrived aboriginal hunters were developing new styles of hunting and cooking.
In the mid 1500’s, The French, interested in colonizing, sent Jean Ribault, along with sketch artist Jacques le Moyne, to the Saint Augustine area. Unfortunately, almost all of these drawings were burned when the Spanish attacked and burned Fort Caroline. Later, Moyne redrew the pictures from memory, but the accuracy of some of the details is questionable such as the ears on the alligator.
The deers head and skin were dried and used as camouflage.
When the fish swam over the fence in high tide, the weir caught them as the tide went out.
Early man spent most of his time acquiring food and making sure they had enough to survive, rather than spending time trying to make it more palatable. However, cooking did that naturally by changing the chemical composition of the foods via browning or carmelization. Known as the Maillard reaction, this changed the flavor for the better.
The browning of foods through high heat created new, richer flavors, and sizzling food over an open flame helped to bring out these natural flavors. Cooking over a campfire was a primitive way of producing better-tasting and more nutritious foods through chemistry. Taste and tenderness become more important once the food supply is regulated and one can spend more time refining the flavors of the dishes. As early man foraged after a brush fire, he may have discovered some of the first roasted seeds and nuts. Another accidental discovery may have occurred in cooler areas. When animal carcasses were found after several days, the meat would be tenderized, allowing for better-tasting cooked food, similar to the meat-locker process used today. (Joy Harris, A Culinary History of Florida)
The Neolithic Revolution and the change from a seasonal food supply to depending on agriculture for subsistence took many millennia to establish.
When man realized a seed dropped along the way turned into an ear of corn with the help of sunshine, soil and water, he was on the path to a more settled lifestyle. By the Late Archaic period, Native Americans knew when to sow and when to reap, becoming the first farmers of the land.
The foundation of early farming communities, along with continent-wide trade connections, improved nutrition for Florida Indians. In North Florida, the main crops harvested were maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, melons and sunflowers, the most important crop being maize. With the right environment and fertile soil, corn was simple to grow: Poke a hole in a hill of dirt, plant the seeds and remove the weeds. Corn could be planted alongside beans and squash using the intercropping method, an improvement over the slash and burn method.