February 7, 2018

Dear friends,

I didn’t get to taste the swamp cabbage but I did snag one of the last pieces of sour orange pie at the Lakeport, Fla., Sour Orange Festival last weekend. The shindig’s logo was an orange, making a puckery-angry face. How could I pass up such a unique food event just a 15-minute drive from our campground?

Things were well underway when we parked in a tufted and rutted pasture with about 20 other vehicles. Apparently the festival was not a hot ticket beyond Lakeport, a sun-baked crossroads of 7,500 residents.

A dozen or so knocked-together booths selling crafts, fried alligator, boiled swamp cabbage and the like were set up in a grove of live oaks. A trio played country-western music on a scuffed stage attached to the community building, where all the sour orange action took place.

This was the 26th year for the festival and its centerpiece, the Sour Orange Bake-Off, said organizer Dorri Evans. A moist coconut cake filled with sour orange curd won this year’s contest, which had just two entries, Dorri said with a rueful shake of her head. “We usually get twelve to fifteen.”

Dorri and her committee were on track to sell out of sour orange pie, as usual, though. In the weeks leading up to the festival the women juiced three 55-gallon drums of sour oranges picked from local trees, which grow wild in the area. The trees, brought here by Spanish colonizers, used to grow all over Florida. They were the root stock for Florida’s sweet-orange industry. Sour oranges are a staple of Cuban cooking and the cooking of Lakeport, where women turn the juice they squeeze into creamy frozen pies that taste like a Creme-sickle.

Tony and I shared a slice and got the recipe from Dorri. Sour orange juice is hard to find outside Latin American and Mexican food stores. Half lime juice and half orange juice may be substituted. Dorri gave me a sour orange before I left. It tastes citrusy but not orange-like. It is pleasantly sour, not lemon or lime sour. I like the flavor and am sorry I won’t be able to find the fruit in stores.

I’m even more sorry I won’t be around for the swamp cabbage festival in nearby Belle Glade later this month. I learned that what old Floridians call “swamp cabbage” is what we call “hearts of palm,” a gourmet item that costs a fortune when you can find it in cans.

Stubby palm trunks were heaped beside a chain saw in the pickup bed of one orange festival purveyor, who said the classic swamp cabbage preparation is boiled with vinegar, although it can be used for fritters and in salads, too. The main ingredient is from the sabal palm (elsewhere coconut and other palms are used, too). “Unfortunately, you have to kill the tree,’’ the purveyor lamented. “I think it’s the state tree of Florida.’’

 

FESTIVAL’S FAMOUS SOUR ORANGE PIES

Image 

• 3 cans (14 oz. each) sweetened condensed milk
• 2 tubs (8 oz. each) frozen whipped topping, thawed
• 2 cups sour orange juice (or 1 cup lime juice and 1 cup regular orange juice)
• 3  8- or 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts

Combine milk, topping and juice and beat with an electric mixer until well blended. Pour over graham crusts. Place in freezer until very firm, preferably overnight. (Wrap with plastic after filling firms up.) Let pies soften slightly at room temperature before cutting into wedges. Makes 3 pies.

Jane’s notes: * To make one pie, use 1 can milk, 2/3 tubs topping, 2/3 cup juice and 1 pie shell.
* Just before serving, decorate pie(s) with whipped topping and orange slices if desired.

GUT CHECKWhat I ate in restaurants week:


Half of a bagel-egg sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts; a fish sandwich (probably tilapia) with fries and coleslaw at the Tin Fish in Okeechobee, Fla.; boneless ribeye steak, baked potato and iceberg lettuce salad with blue cheese dressing at the Brahma Bull Restaurant near Okeechobee; a tower of marinated raw tuna, avocado chunks, diced cucumber, crab cream cheese and pickled ginger with salmon roe and wasabi cream and eel sauces at 12A Buoy in Ft. Pierce; sugar-free Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen; and a practically flavor-free ham and pineapple pizza from Domino’s (my first from the chain).

What I cooked last week:
Nothing. Tony, however, made delicious grilled hot dogs on top-sliced buns with mustard, chili, grilled hot peppers and chopped onions. Yum.

THE MAILBAGFrom M.P:

Wanted to let you know that Siamone Fryer (Siamone’s in the Gala Plaza on Waterloo Road) has opened in her new location in the Brimfield Plaza. I was so glad to hear, and anxious to have her delicious Malay curry.

Dear M.P.:
That is good news. I like her food, too. The restaurant’s Facebook page, under Thai Monies, lists hours of 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at 4112 Brimfield Plaza, State Route 43, in Kent. Phone 1-330-474-7588.


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