Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Summertime Eats: In Immokalee, a Tasty Season

September 11th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of guest columns about personal summertime food stories. If you’d like to submit yours, use the Contact tab at the top of the page to email it to me. Summer stories will continue through Sept. 21.

By Ben Starling, Guest Columnist

Summertime could be rather boring for us in Immokalee – no theater, no malls, nothing that smacked of a “big city” way of life.  But, we did have church youth group and family cookouts that always included lots of good food.

 Some favorite memories:

Blackened hot dogs: Technique – not trend

 My father burned EVERYTHING on the grill. He believes in cooking everything on “high” and unless the grill was throwing up big flames that enveloped the meat, it was simply not hot enough.

Hot dogs were always black and any meat (if it had skin) was served blackened at our home. Part of this was because my father made his own barbecue sauce that include boxes – boxes! – of brown sugar, Karo syrup, red wine and ketchup. It was awesome, and the meat was continuously coated while cooking. Our grill was always a big mess, but the barbecue was sweet, plentiful — and well done!

 Swimming with the melons

watermelon_edited-1Being the child of a florist meant that we had massive freezer space (for the flowers), so our watermelons were never served at room temp but always chilled because they were in refrigerator (in the flower cooler at their store!) for days.

Usually when the watermelon(s) were brought home, they were tossed in the swimming pool to insure they remained cool. My brother and I had a blast tossing around the watermelons in the pool until it was time to serve them. Not until you have been smacked in the back with a missle (aka watermelon – the long ones, not the round ones – they can be shoved underwater and are just like a torpedo) can you possibly know the feeling of muscle pain!

HOWEVER, never can you know the wrath of a father until the watermelon is tossed too hard and it smacks the bottom of the pool and creates quite a mess that can clog a pool filter!

Luscious peach ice cream

My mother always made peach ice cream and we would eat it out by the pool. We always seemed to get a bushel of fresh peaches each summer and would have fresh cobbler, ice cream and pie.

But the ice cream was always the best, and had a rather light taste. My mother did not believe in using strictly heavy whipping cream, but preferred more of frozen milk consistency. It was perfect for summer and a family favorite.

 My dear saint of a mother is the best cook around. Summers always included her baked beans to go with whatever my father burned on the grill, and usually the salad she specially prepared (kind of like cole slaw but she used cheddar cheese and shredded lettuce and more sugar).

Sweet tea – nothing but

sweetteaAll these things were washed down with sweet tea… never ice cold beer (we were Southern Baptist!). 

By the way, the beans were never those just dumped out of a can. Brown sugar, Karo syrup, a little mustard, some bacon, etc…. it’s no wonder diabetes, heart disease, and obesity runs in our family!


Ben Starling is a native of Immokalee, Fla. The name means “my home” or “permanent camp” in the Seminole language.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 ksteinhoff // Sep 11, 2009 at 5:03 pm


    I spent about a month off and on working on stories based out of Immokalee. Every chance I could find to get west of 20-Mile Bend would give me an excuse to get out to one town or another in the Glades. If I couldn’t wangle an assignment, I’d go out on my days off.

    You may recognize some of the scenes in this slide show I put together to Woodie Guthrie’s song Deportees, sung by his son Arlo. I’d love to get permission to use the audio to the song and post it as a video.

    About of third of the pictures were taken in your home town, including the roundup of “wetbacks,” shot at the Collier County Stockade.

    A couple of the shots were folks on the Million Dollar Log outside Wheeler’s Bar.

    (I don’t think that’s a place Jan would rate too highly, although it was one of the better bars in town. One version of how the Million Dollar Log got its name is that a million dollars of cheap wine had been consumed on it. The other version is that everybody who sat on The Log had been a millionaire until he met a woman who done him wrong.)

    The rest were taken in and around Belle Glade and Pahokee.

    I met a lot of good people in the Glades. With few exceptions, I never feared for my safety even though I was working alone at cain’t see in the morning. Even when I did feel a little uneasy, I felt comfortable that the nice folks I HAD met would come to my aid if needed.

  • 2 Debbie Spade // Sep 3, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    The story I was told about the million dollar log was that people coming from the bar would sit on the log, pass out, and tip over. The next day you could pick up the change that fell out of their pockets.

  • 3 Ken Steinhoff // Sep 3, 2013 at 10:15 pm


    Most of the occupants of the log didn’t have any change in their pockets to spill.

    It was all spent inside Wheeler’s Bar.

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