by Emma Davis | October 6, 2020

A Taste of Old Florida: Recipes and Stories from the Women of Midcentury Florida

Five homegrown Sunshine State dishes and the women behind them

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Journey to Old Florida with homegrown recipes like this Florida orange meringue pie. Photography by Patricia Barreto.

Grandma’s house might be the closest thing to heaven I can find on Earth. There’s always a meal fit for Easter Sunday on the table, and I know I’m getting a second helping—not that I’m complaining. Despite stuffing us silly, she’ll cut me a too-big slice of lemon pound cake for dessert and show me how to get that barbecue stain off of my favorite white top afterward. At 82 years old, Frances Greelish is the queen of Walmart shopping, hemming my college graduation dress and Silver Sneakers classes at the YMCA.

While I was helping Grandma Frances move into her new townhome near the southside of Jacksonville a few months ago, one of her moving boxes filled with old black-and-white photos caught my eye. As I marveled at how much my grandma, in her twenties, looked just like my sister, I noticed two brightly colored boxes buried underneath the dark film strips and vintage smiles. Both were stuffed full of handwritten recipes on yellowing notecards and magazine clippings advertising 10-cent toilet paper.

The boxes had belonged to my grandma’s mother, Susie Andrews, and her sister Ruth Arnow. Both women were born in Jacksonville at the turn of the century. The boxes had sat on top of my grandma’s fridge collecting a thick layer of dust for decades, until I stumbled upon them during the move, opened them up and started asking questions about the women whose names were scrawled beside these old recipes. They weren’t just recipes from Susie and Ruth; it was a collection of dishes from friends, sisters, aunts and cousins. Women who helped create the places we know today. Women who established new neighborhoods, made house calls when tuberculosis ripped through the state and sewed clothes for their children out of old chicken feed sacks. These are the recipes they fed their families, served at dinner parties and baked for birthdays 50 years ago. A true taste of Old Florida.


Frances Greelish (right) and Joyce Pitts (left) on the beaches of North Florida in the ’60s. Photography courtesy of Emma Davis.

JOYCE PITTS

Born in 1938, Joyce spent her younger years as a dancer, performing ballet, jazz and modern dance into her teens. She eventually married, became a stay-at-home mother of three and moved from Jacksonville to Lantana in Palm Beach County with her husband, Bill. A lifelong friend of my grandma, Joyce was known to infuse her world with laughter, giggling over nothing with her friends in the back of her father’s crank-motor car and pushing each other in shopping carts through his drugstore. Eighty years later, this laughter cemented her friendship with my grandmother. In Joyce’s final days, my grandma drove to her house every weekend to cook for her, help her dress in the morning and keep her company. Even then, Joyce never let her leave without sharing a laugh in the living room. Named for their nutty ingredients, Joyce’s tongue-in-cheek male cookie recipe carries her sense of humor through generations. You can bet she chuckled every time she whipped up a batch of these.

MALE COOKIES

  • 1 ⅓ cups butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 cup flour (measure before sifting)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten together
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (Joyce used pecans)

PREPARATION: Cream butter and sugar with a beater. Add eggs and mix. Add sifted flour, salt, vanilla and nuts to create dough. Scoop dough to roughly two tablespoon balls. Roll the dough balls in powdered sugar. Cook about 40 minutes at 300 degrees or until browned.

Joyce’s Notes: I put mixture in a lightly buttered (approx. 10x15x3/4) metal pan. Let cool in the pan. After cooking, cut to size desired and remove from the pan. It takes a little work to remove from the pan, but the results are worth it.


SUSIE ANDREWS

Although I know her as my great-grandmother, my grandma still affectionately refers to her as mama. Born in 1913, Susie Andrews grew up alongside three older sisters and was the first to be born in a hospital rather than at home. Before blowout Black Friday sales or browsing the internet for coupons, Susie was a savvy homemaker for her husband and two daughters.

Having grown up in the throes of the Great Depression, she knew how to run her home on hard work and ingenuity. She sewed her daughters’ clothes out of old chicken feed sacks, tended a large garden to eat from and raised chickens in Springfield. Susie modeled the belief that you don’t need wealth for an abundant life, and she always made the most of what she had. She was particularly known for her colorful canned pears. She used food coloring to turn her canned pears pink and blue so her daughters would enjoy eating them for months on end. Her ability to make the most out of a little shines through in her four-ingredient recipe for strawberry yogurt pie.

STRAWBERRY YOGURT PIE

  • 2 (8 ounce each) fruit-flavored yogurt tubs
  • 3 ½ cups thawed Birds Eye Cool Whip
  • ½ cup mashed strawberries
  • 1 prepared 9-inch graham cracker crust

PREPARATION: Fold yogurt into whipped topping, blend well, then add strawberries and spoon into crust. Freeze about 4 hours, until firm. Remove from the freezer 30 minutes or longer before cutting and keep chilled in the refrigerator. Garnish, if desired. Store leftover pie in refrigerator.


DOT CARRELL

A nurse and a single mother, Dorothy Carrell, better known as Dot, was born in 1911 in her parents’ home in Jacksonville’s Springfield neighborhood. Susie’s sister and Grandma Frances’ aunt, Dot was always one to give everything she could to her family and even strangers. Dot lived a life dedicated to the underdog, her son Jim recalls. Every morning she made her way out to Wesconnett, a notably poor and then-rural area of southwest Jacksonville, where she provided medical care, blankets and food for families through the Salvation Army. Her compassion for the destitute wasn’t confined to work hours, and she spent much of her time off the clock making house calls and chauffeuring residents to doctor’s appointments in town. When tuberculosis tore through Jacksonville in the early ’50s, she was on the front lines. In the midst of caring for the people of Wesconnett, Dot also raised Jim, her only child, alone after her husband, Herbert, left for World War II and returned with a woman from France. She spent her 84-year life fighting for others, even when life wasn’t fair to her. Dot’s deliciously cheesy zucchini casserole was a safe bet at every potluck, and my grandma still insists on whipping it up in her honor on holidays.

TOMATO ZUCCHINI BAKE

  • 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 1 tomato, thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 6 slices of American cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter

PREPARATION: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In layers, place half of the zucchini slices into the bottom of the casserole dish, cover with half the tomato slices, then sliced green peppers, and finally three slices of cheese. Repeat layers. Dot with butter and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until zucchini is tender.


Caro Hare’s Florida Orange Meringue Pie recipe still manages to bring people together years after her passing. Photography by Patricia Barreto.

CARO HARE

Caro Hare was the talk of the town in Micanopy, and by that we mean she talked to everyone in town. Born in 1914 to the affluent Hare family who made their fortune drilling wells, Caro’s country roots were punctuated by the finer things in life, like a backyard pool and private plane. She was a childhood friend of my great-grandmother and known around town for her sense of style, striking beauty and bubbly personality. Caro could hold a conversation with anyone—and she would. From having the neighborhood kids over to see the first TV in town to organizing events for the Micanopy First United Methodist Church, she used her affluence to build community. Although she died in 2008, she still manages to bring people together over a slice of her Florida Orange Meringue Pie.

FLORIDA ORANGE MERINGUE PIE

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup orange sections cut in pieces
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange rind
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons butter or oleo

PREPARATION: Combine orange juice, orange sections, grated rind, sugar and cornstarch. Cook on low heat until clear. Add a little of the clear, hot mixture to the beaten egg yolks in a separate bowl. Cook the rest of the clear mixture about 5 minutes longer then remove from heat. Blend in lemon juice and butter or oleo/margarine. Pour all into a baked pie shell. Be sure the filling and shell are both hot or both cold. Cover with meringue. Bake in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned. 


Susie Andrews (left) poses with her bubbly friend Babe Moscia (right). Photography courtesy of Emma Davis.

BABE MOSCIA

Babe Moscia was the type of woman who subscribed to Audrey Hepburn’s mantra: Life is a party, dress like it. You’d never spot her without her signature soft pin-up curls and vibrant pantsuits in every color of the rainbow, accompanied by a matching blouse—the suit jacket never stayed on long in the Florida heat. Toting her family money and a charming disposition that made her undeniably likeable, Babe helped shape Jacksonville’s Mandarin neighborhood into the Publix-on-every-corner place it is today. She and her four children were some of the first people to move there in the 20th century, and it wasn’t long before she had convinced all of her friends from north Jacksonville to do the same over a game of cards and maybe a few glasses of wine. One of these women was my great-grandmother Susie Andrews, and five generations later, her family is still raising their kids in the same area Babe helped establish. Known for its ancient oak trees, haunting Spanish moss and scenic river views, Mandarin was sparsely populated for centuries until women like Babe, with money and style, persuaded their friends of its beauty. Babe’s creole shrimp was a staple dish at every bridge game and bingo night. Thankfully, she was eager to share her secret; both recipe boxes had a cursive-written copy of this simple, savory meal.

CREOLE SHRIMP

  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 green peppers
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ½ cups canned tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup sliced mushrooms
  • 4 carrots, sliced
  • 6 or 7 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 pound shrimp
  • 2 cups of rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste (about 2 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper)

PREPARATION: Fry shrimp in butter until it begins to look pink, roughly two minutes on each side. Add chopped green peppers, onion, carrots, celery, tomato and mushrooms and simmer until browned. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook rice according to the manufacturer’s recipe.

THE BROWN SAUCE

  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 slices onion
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cans Campbell’s bullion
  • Bottle of cooking sherry
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION: Brown onions in butter. Add flour mixed with salt and pepper. Simmer until it starts to brown. Add bouillon gradually and bring to a boiling point. Stir to prevent lumping or sticking. Cook to a medium gravy.

Add shrimp and vegetables to the brown sauce and simmer for one to two minutes. Take off heat and cool slightly. Flavor with sherry (about 2 to 4 tablespoons). Serve over rice.

The two recipe boxes were filled with handwritten notecards and old magazine clippings. Photography by Emma Davis.

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