Florida Legends – All You Can Eat if You Know How to Find It

Zora Neale Hurston’s “tales from the turpentine camps, on the surface, could be seen as silly, promoting these stereotypes. A sweet potato floating through the air with a knife sticking out of it? Pure fantasy. But a closer reading shows a culture of resistance and resilience. In the camp workers’ wildest dreams, all they want is unlimited access to food, a basic need that often locked them into the camp through debt racked up at the company store, or one that they were sometimes flatly denied. Food was hope and optimism.” – Julie Botnick in “Zora Neale Hurston, Diddy-Dah-Widdy, and the WPA Federal Writers’ Project”

The legendary Florida town called Diddy-Wah-Diddy, collected–or perhaps, imagined–by Zora Neale Hurston in 1938, has been celebrated by numerous blues singers and included in anthologies and re-tellings by Mary E. Lyons and others for years.

zoradiddyIn his New York Times review of The Food of a Younger Land, Jonathan Miles writes, “Couched between a selection of black Mississippi recipes transcribed in dialect (‘wrop cakes in a collard leaf, place on dese coals coverin wid some more hot so hot’) and the Christmas dinner menu at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., is a stunning prose poem by Zora Neale Hurston about a mythical place in African-American folklore — a kind of barbecue version of Shangri-La — known as ‘Diddy Wah Diddy.'”

While the WPA Federal Writers project featuring the story was never completed, Hurston’s work lives on, describing her take on the many dreams of food and better times and magical places from Blacks enslaved in the turpentine camps, usually for minor or imaginary offenses.

Unfortunately, Lyons’ book appears to be out of print. Her website description sounds tempting: “During Virginia’s 2008-2009 Big Read for Little Readers, Mary E. Lyons rewrote these same stories for young people. Now children in grades 1-4 can travel with Zora to a magical land where nobody cooks, but the food is always ready. In Diddy Wah Diddy readers meet Chicken, Pie and Moon Man. They wander to Zar and stroll through Bella. They amble across Amen Avenue, then fly down to West Heck with High John.”

bodiddleysingleI came across the mythical town while researching Florida legends for my upcoming novel Eulalie and Washerwoman. I couldn’t resist including a reference to the place, a town nobody knows how to get to, but if they happened to find it, all that had to do was sit and wait and pretty soon the best food they could possibly want appeared, ready to eat, with knife, fork and spoon ready to go.

In her collection, Uncle Monday Monday and Other Florida Tales, Kriston G. Congdon’s version includes the line about a town “way off somewhere” that “Is reached by a road that curves so much that a mule pulling a wagon-load of feed can eat off the back of the wagon as he goes.” Congdon says that most people think the place exists.

Perhaps so.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “The Sun Singer,” and other magical novels. The soon-to-be released “Eulalie and Washerwoman” is a sequel to “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

Seminole Pumpkin Fry Bread

One of the first things I learned to cook was fry bread. Didn’t take long to get it right because it has very few ingredients and is one of those foods that (like making biscuits) is done by the feel of the dough rather than slavishly measuring ingredients into a mixing bowl.

If you work the hell out of the dough, you’ll ruin it like you can when making pasta. The dough works better if you make it one day, cover it over night with tin foil (AKA aluminum foil) in the ice box (AKA fridge), and make the bread the following day.

Seminole fry bread preparation at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival - State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Seminole fry bread preparation at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

There are a lot of variations, but pumpkin tops my list, though you can experiment with butternut squash instead of pumpkin. I like it plain, but some folks add cinnamon or nutmeg or vanilla extract (food Lord!) or even dust the tops with powdered sugar like they’re making Beignets in New Orleans (what the hell?).

If you’re using self-rising flour, then flour (about 3 cups), pumpkin (let’s say 4 cups), and sugar (a cup or less) is all it takes. With all-purpose flour, you’ll need a tablespoon of baking soda as well. And some cooking oil or lard. Pumpkins harvest in the fall, so if you have fresh, chop them up and boil it. If not, canned pumpkin works fine. (If you don’t want the pumpkin in it, use water or milk when mixing the flour. If you don’t want it sweet, leave out the sugar.)

Let it sit overnight. Don’t skip this step.

The next day, roll the dough into balls and then flatten them with your fingertips so they’re thin enough to cook all the way through before they burn on the outside. Taste the dough before you do this to see if it needs more sugar or is too sticky and needs more flour. Put the little cakes in a skillet or pan of hot oil (medium-high).

Turn them when the edges get brown. Medium brown is what you’re looking for and that usually happens when the cakes float. Drain on a paper towel. Great for snacks or to go with your dinner.

If you like pictures to go with your recipes, the Seminole Tribune has a series of what-it-ought-to-look-like pictures here.

I don’t normally talk about food on this blog, but I mentioned pumpkin fry bread a fair number of times in my 1950s-era folk magic novella Conjure Woman’s Cat and that was enough to get me addicted to it all over again. Seems like everyone in Florida made fry bread in the 1950s.

In many Indian nations, making and eating fry bread is sacred and deeply linked to the past.

–Malcolm

Amazon Kindle cover.

All three of Campbell’s “conjure and crime” novels have been collected into one e-book.

Purple Platter Meatloaf & other delicacies

Welcome to Vanilla Heart Publishing’s Dine-a-Round, a smorgasbord of posts featuring recipes for the culinary delicacies featured in our novels.

My contribution is an entrée from the Purple Platter Restaurant in my novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire. Jock claims to be a meatloaf kind of guy, but his dinnertime happiness level depends who made the meatloaf:

A Meatloaf Excerpt

The living room curtains were closed, and the front door was open slightly, and the aroma of meatloaf was wafting out onto the porch. Never a good sign.

“Honey, I’m home,” shouted Jock, stepping into the living room far enough to see no corpses were present.

“I’m in the kitchen, darling.”

Coral Snake Smith was heating up something in the skillet. He was wearing an apron with the strings untied. A basket with a towel on top, a Cabernet bottle and two glasses sat in the center on the kitchen table that had been set for two. One of the glasses had been used—excessively, from the look of the bottle. Jock put his camera bag on the floor and sat down at the table next to an empty plate and began munching on a hot Parker House roll.

“It takes balls breaking into a guy’s house to cook meatloaf,” said Jock.

“Lucinda told me to fix you something to eat,” said Smith.

He served up two Purple Platter sized helpings of meatloaf, whipped potatoes, and green beans and sat down without removing his apron.

“Why?”

“You missed Sunday dinner,” he said, then made a show of lifting his fork to signify it was time to dig in.

The meatloaf was surprisingly lousy. It was the kind of meatloaf Aunt Edna fixed Jock when he was an innocent kid on or about the time when she was losing track of things such as who he actually was and what ingredients belonged in the food.

The Recipe

(According to informed sources, Coral Snake Smith stole the basic recipe from Malcolm’s mother and then “punched it up” with extra herbs.)

An Elegant Dinner Party

http://bit.ly/gklZbA A complete menu from To Be Continued by Charmaine Gordon

Main Dish recipes

http://tiny.cc/6ocas Tranoc’s Lecho from Forest Song: Letting Go by  Vila Spiderhawk

http://bit.ly/g2ZWY3 OR http://bit.ly/dXQoTn Crispy Cobb Salad from No Easy Way by SR Claridge

http://bit.ly/hy7s5E Chicken Pot Pie from Within the Law by Chelle Cordero

http://bit.ly/f6XQKH Pot Roast from Appalachian Justice by Melinda Clayton

Dessert

http://bit.ly/glJHHT Pecan Pie from Sabbath’s House by Marilyn Celeste Morris

http://bit.ly/eoNgaF Poppy Seed Cake from Opal Fire Barbra Annino

http://bit.ly/dMNNTS Gingerbread from Frank, Incense And Muriel by Anne K. Albert

http://bit.ly/i2bI0m Creme Brulee from Conquering Venus by Collin Kelley

Beverage

http://bit.ly/gBBw4K Russian Czar Drink from Bartlett’s Rule by Chelle Cordero

I hope you enjoy the meal! Our characters like to eat well. The books are also quite tasty, whether in paperback or e-book form (multiple formats. including Kindle).

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