Books make great gifts for history fans, so let's continue a seasonal "Flashback" tradition with a gift idea: a handsome hardcover titled "Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans," recently published by the University Press of Florida.
In preparing the book, its three authors — Orlando Sentinel food editor Heather McPherson and fellow culinary experts Pam Brandon and Katie Farmand — traveled the far reaches of our big state to meet Florida farmers and hear their stories.
It proved to be a rewarding and delicious journey. The trio feasted "on fried duck eggs for breakfast in Bonifay, hot boiled peanuts on a front porch in Milton, juicy mangos in Lantana," they write. "We savored sugar-sweet strawberries in Plant City and heirloom tomatoes still warm from the sun in Homestead."
This is not an "old-fashioned-recipe" cookbook—some recipes feature up-to-date ingredients from pomegranates to prosciutto. But the book also highlights old-Florida foods and farms owned by folks whose families "have tilled the same land for generations."
It's strawberry season
One Central Florida example, Parkesdale Farms and Market, began in the 1950s when Irish immigrant R. E. "Roy" Parke Jr. moved with his family to Florida "after learning that Plant City was the prime location for growing winter vegetables and strawberries," the authors write.
By the way, we're at the beginning of strawberry season, which stretches from December to April — a great time to enjoy a bountiful strawberry shortcake at Parkesdale Farms' roadside market in Plant City. In "Field to Feast," the authors raise their glasses to Parkesdale with a recipe for Spicy Strawberry Margaritas
Other venerable farms featured in the book include Long & Scott in Zellwood, where folks work hard to maintain the tradition of Florida sweet corn as a Zellwood product. The authors' recipe for Sweet Corn Chowder honors the tradition as well.
One of Florida's largest agricultural enterprises, Duda Fresh Farm Foods, has grown from roots put down in Oviedo in 1926 by Slovak immigrant Andrew Duda and his three sons. Now a global enterprise, the business remains family-owned. Its first commercial crop, celery, is an important part of Central Florida's agricultural heritage and remains a focus of the company's research and production.
The skinny on swamp cabbage
Long before Floridians grew celery, pioneers feasted on swamp cabbage — the heart of the sabal palmetto. The "Field to Feast" authors describe how palmetto hearts were harvested and prepared as well as a modern recipe that includes white wine, basil and chives.
Don't head out with your machete and start hacking at palmetto trees, though. As Florida's state tree, it's protected from indiscriminate cutting, although "cabbage palms clustered on private property and palms on land destined for clearing are fair game," the authors note.
Along with recipes for such old-time ingredients, "Field to Feast" contains plenty of information about a new generation of Florida culinary pioneers and chefs.
As chef Deborah Madison notes in praising the book, "These three authors have shown the world a Florida that boasts a rich tapestry of local foods and traditions and respect for place and land."
To learn more
"Field to Feast: Recipes Celebrating Florida Farmers, Chefs, and Artisans," contains 352 pages and brims with color photos. Price: $28 (less at some online stores). The website fieldtofeastfl.com contains links for ordering signed copies and more.
On Saturday, Dec. 15, the authors will be at Orlando's Harry P. Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave., for a holiday-themed cooking demonstration and book signing, from 10 a.m. to noon. It's at the Idea Garden Pavilion. Cost: Members $20; non-members $25. Details: 407-246-2620.
On Dec. 22, the authors are signing books at the Apopka Foliage & Fresh Market, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Kit Land Nelson Park, 10 N. Forest Ave., Apopka.