Jan Norris: Food and Florida

Food, Restaurants, Recipes and Pre-Disney Florida

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Back in the (Blog) Saddle After Road Tripping – and Back to My Roots

February 21st, 2013 · 5 Comments

Sorry for my web absence, but I’ve been away – since the 20th of January, to put a date to it, and took a break from posting here. But I’m back, and plan on regular updates about restaurants, food and travel.

Ken Steinhoff at Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio - a frozen fairyland. /photo by Jan Norris.

Ken Steinhoff at Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio – a frozen fairyland of icy waterfalls, frozen ponds and snow. /photo by Jan Norris.

I been on the road – through nine states and close to 2500 miles to arrive in Cape Girardeau, Mo., to see “real winter” with an old friend, Ken Steinhoff. He’s a Missouri native who would explain the nuances of coping in snow and ice. As a South Florida lifer, I had little to build on. I’m now a veteran of single digit weather. I traveled to many of the places he writes about in the blog I follow, Cape Central High, about growing up in a small town in the ’50s and ’60s. There is a Big Story to come on this trip; stay tuned.

Fried mullet, cheesegrits and orange cake

Only a few days home and I was gone again – to Florida’s Panhandle on a magazine assignment, with a side trip to visit cousins.

Frying mullet, oysters and shrimp with Larry Hatler in Pensacola, February 2013. /photo by Jan Norris

Frying mullet, oysters and shrimp with Larry Hatler in Pensacola, February 2013. /photo by Jan Norris

In Pensacola, I was feted as the favorite cousin in my mother’s big family. For my visit, they rounded up cousins and an uncle from around the city and threw a fish fry on a weeknight, no less.

The menu: Fresh mullet fillets, Gulf oysters and shrimp and onion rings went into the fryer. They were served with cole slaw and big pot of cheese grits, some creamed corn, a simple green salad and for dessert, my mother’s orange cake and a strawberry whipped cream cake. Good eats, any way you look at it.

Uncle Cecil Harrelson, was wistful once he saw the orange cake I’d baked. “I haven’t seen one of these since mama died,” he said. That was more than 30 years ago.

My grandmother, Annie Laura Kilpatrick Harrelson, was a pretty good cook and loved her sweets – this simple cake was in her repertoire, though I never remember having it at her house. Uncle Cecil’s remark gave me insight into where my mother got the recipe, after all these years.


My kitchen DNA is Southern – and trendy

I was so thrilled about that. And that I got to eat like a Southerner again, with my very Southern family. Though I can’t handle all that fried food any more (and paid the price), it was that unspoken connection to this food, with these accents, that say “roots” to me, a girl raised as a Southerner in a land of Yankees and assorted imports that is this quilt called South Florida.

But today, my heritage foods are once again “trendy.” This happened before, in the ’70s, and they called it “Soul Food.”

Now, chefs are twiddling with these foods and putting out versions of panko-crumbed fried chicken, fried green tomato BLTs, or cheese grits made with smoked Gouda – and charging me $9 a bowl for something that used to cost me 50 cents (albeit with cheddar) in a favorite diner and less than 15 cents when I made them at home.

This is much amusement for my cousins, who lament that you can’t find an all-you-can-eat mullet feast locally any more, and when you do, it costs an arm and a leg. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them that the large shrimp they were eating would have cost me nearly twice as much as the $8 a pound I happily paid for them at Joe Patti’s – and may not have been locally caught, either.

All this was brought home when I read an essay by Ken Fitzgerald, a writer from Appalachia, who explained the trend to “local” and “sustainable” in restaurants as home cooking to many of us – sort of. For anyone who has a specific food DNA, do read “Redneck, White Tablecloth” on the Okra magazine – from the Southern Foodways Alliance group. I couldn’t put it any better.

For this great read, go here – and sign up for Okra if you’re a Southerner who loves our traditions, old and new.

And for the Gouda grits recipe, here you go. It’s a variation on one from Southern Living.

Gouda grits

  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups uncooked quick-cooking grits
  • 2 cups shredded Gouda cheese – see note
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup butter

Bring broth, whipping cream, salt and 4 cups water to a boil in a Dutch oven or heavy pot over high heat; whisk in grits. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until thick.

Remove from heat, and stir in Gouda, buttermilk and butter.

Keep hot; serve with fried fish or bacon and eggs or a spinach quiche.

Makes 12 servings.

Note: Smoked Gouda gives the grits a unique flavor.

Tags: Old Florida · Southern Roots Run Deep

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ken Steinhoff // Feb 21, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Since she’ leaving you dangling, I get to tell MY side of the story first.

    Here’s my first posting from our road trip. To follow along, keep looking at the newer entries.


  • 2 joan cochran // Mar 4, 2013 at 10:35 am

    Fried mullet? That’s a new one for me. I’m married to a boy (okay, man) from Texas and I thought I’d heard of fried everything. Growing up in South Florida and fishing with my dad, mullet was always bait fish.

  • 3 Kate // Mar 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    You are braver than I! Leaving South Florida in the winter is something I never liked to do once I got here from the North East!

  • 4 A Casual Observer // Mar 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Fried mullet! The year: 1971 The place: Gainesville, FL The story: Jack was the warehouse manager for the Florida Farm Bureau TBA Division. He and I would have dinner together at one of 1/2 dozen different Gainesville eateries on the rare occasions when I was in town in the middle of the day. His meal selection was always the same: fried mullet, although the greens that accompanied his favorite dish would change from day-to-day. Only after watching this good ol’ boy dig in to his favorite meal on numerous occasions did I finally dig in myself. The flavor of the flaky white fish with the golden batter crust was almost worth the bone battle required to make your way through the serving. Jack would laugh at my crude efforts and then get up to leave while half my plate remained. To this day, I do not fully comprehend the deboning process!

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