Spring is well underway here in the Sunshine State, and many Florida families have already marked the occasion by planting flowers and tilling up garden patches. These days, growing fruits and vegetables is as much a form of entertainment as a supplement to the family diet, since modern refrigeration and shipping make it possible for us to get almost any food we desire from the local grocery.
That was certainly not the case for most Florida families during the 19th century. In those days, most Floridians relied heavily on their own farms and garden patches for food, especially vegetables and fruits. Grocers could be found in town, but their products were often both limited and expensive.
The problem, of course, is that even sunny Florida experiences cooler weather for a few months out of the year, and many fruits and vegetables simply don’t grow as well during that time. Without the ability to refrigerate or freeze their spring and summer crops for winter use, 19th century Florida families favored pickling as a way to preserve these precious foods. One bit of evidence supporting this is the large number of pickle recipes we often find in the cookbooks and correspondence of Floridians who lived before the age of modern refrigeration. Since gardens across the state are starting to bear lots of tasty food items ripe for the picking, we’ve decided to share a few of our favorite historic pickling recipes:
Our first recipe comes from a book of handwritten recipes and religious poetry belonging to the Simpson family of Jefferson County. Here are the instructions for making their version of “cucumber pickles”:
Get very small cucumbers, wipe them clean, lay them into stone jars. Allow one quart of coarse salt to a pail of water. Boil the salt & water until the salt is dissolved; turn it boiling hot on the cucumbers; cover them up tight, and let them stand twenty four hours. Turn them into a basket to drain. Boil as much of the best cider vinegar as will cover the cucumbers. Wash out the jars, put the cucumbers into them, turn on the vinegar boiling hot, cover them with cabbage leaves & cover the jars tight. In forty eight hours they will be fit for use.
Any kind of pickles is good made in the same way.
The Simpsons were also apparently adventurous enough to try pickling other garden items, even watermelon rind! Here’s a recipe for “watermelon pickles” acquired from a “Mrs. Porter” and included in the Simpson family cookbook:
Here’s the transcript. Be careful with this one – we’re still not sure about one of the units of measurement used in this recipe!
10 [pounds?] of rind
Take the green off the rind, boil in pure water until tender, drain the water off and make a syrup of 2 [pounds?] of sugar, 1 qt of vinegar, 1/2 ounce of cloves, 1 ounce of cinnamon. The syrup to be boiled and poured over the rind three mornings in succession, boiling hot.
Now we’re sure you’ve heard of fried green tomatoes, but have you ever had them pickled? Mary Archer, who lived in Tallahassee for seven decades of the 19th century, included a recipe for green tomato pickles in her small leather-bound handwritten cookbook, now held by the State Library & Archives of Florida. Mary was the daughter of Thomas Brown, Florida’s second state governor. Brown operated one of the few hotels in Tallahassee during the antebellum era, and Mary herself managed the hotel for a few years during Reconstruction. Mary’s cookbook, which includes entries dating from 1852 to sometime after 1869, provides a unique snapshot of North Florida cuisine, especially the preserves and baked delicacies popular at that time. Here are Mary Archer’s instructions for green tomato pickles:
And the transcript:
One peck of green tomatoes, cut into thin slices. Sprinkle them with salt for one day. 12 onions cut in the same way. One bottle of mustard, a quarter of a pound of mustard seed, alspice, cloves, ground pepper, ground ginger, each one ounce.
Mix the spices together and put in a kettle a layer of tomatoes and a layer of spices alternately. Cover them with vinegar, and let them simmer until the tomatoes look quite clear, then they are fit for use.
Mary also had a few other pickling recipes in her cookbook, including this one for what was commonly called “yellow pickles” or “Virginia pickles” in those days:
Cut white head cabbage in four parts and lay them one night in strong [salt] and water. Scald them three successive days in salt and water adding [more] salt each day. Cover the bottom and sides of your kettle with the outside green leaves of the cabbage. Put in the cabbage, then cover them with vinegar, then cover all with cabbage leaves. Boil them until you can put a straw in the stalk of the cabbage. Drain the vinegar and put them in a jar. Have ready Turmeric, mustard and celery seed, spice, cloves, pepper and mace. Put them in the top after well mixing them. Fill the jar with cold vinegar. Onion cut fine should be put with the seasoning. This pickle is ready for use immediately tho age improves it.
These are just a few of the many pickling recipes found in the collections of the State Library & Archives. They’re more than just a tasty way to enjoy spring and summer vegetables all year long – they’re also a link between the culinary traditions of today , when food preservation methods liking salting, smoking, and pickling were a necessity for all Florida families.
What kinds of pickles do you enjoy best? Do you make your own? Share with us by leaving a comment below, or by posting this blog on Facebook or Twitter.