Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Pie, Pirates, and Food Related Culture Shock

Our silly kids came home asking for brownies today. I have no idea why. I hardly ever have surprise after-school brownies made. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had surprise after-school brownies made?! And usually, even if we have leftover dessert items, I make them wait for it until after dinner. Usually. Today though, I think they were talking about potential brownies on the bus, because as I stared past their eager begging faces, at the front door.. not even across the threshold… I looked across the patio and saw two school friends peeking in the gate, just in case surprise after-school brownies were to be had by all! Nope. No brownies. Sorry kiddos.


Dessert had been requested and as dinner was already done, I gave it some thought. I didn’t want super sweet or too chocolately. I didn’t have bananas or other fruit for a sweet bread. I didn’t feel like making ice cream. I walked into the pantry and stared at stuff. There was a can of pumpkin. Perfect. We could have pie, and I could validate it as a need for beta-carotene. Something like that.

I needed a pie crust though, and looked in my stash for a cookbook that I thought might have a simple crust recipe. I laid my hands on this: 

The Gasparilla Cookbook is a product of the Junior League of Tampa and was originally published in 1961. My copy is from 1987 and was given to my mom by some friends when my parents moved away from Florida. Their website describes it as: “This is a traditional cook's book, featuring gourmet regional cuisine and prized heirloom recipes spotlighting the area's blend of Spanish, Greek, Cuban, Italian and Southern heritages.” It’s also for sale at Amazon.com where they note that “The Gasparilla Cookbook is a winner of the Southern Living Hall of Fame Award and the Walter S. McIlhenny Hall of Fame Award given to community cookbooks with sales over 100,000 copies.”

btw… I hear you asking, what the heck IS Gasparilla anyway?? For that I suggest you visit the Wiki page on the Gasparilla Pirate Festival or Google “Gasparilla 2013” for images. Yes, my cookbook may be ancient, and this festival is older still, but Jose Gaspar and his Krewe have been invading Tampa annually since (approximately) 1904 and are still at it to this day. Imagine Mardi Gras… with an invasion fleet, and pirates, in Florida.

pirateswalk pirateship
I don’t have my own photos. I borrowed these off of the ‘net. It’s been so long since I’ve been in Tampa for the holiday! I was very envious of friends who were there and participated this year, and I very much enjoyed their fun photos shared on Facebook! It was their sharing that led me to grab this cookbook today instead of my usual ‘go-to’ binder of recipes, and I’m glad that I did. It brought back excellent food memories of my home city!

One favorite recipe is deviled crabs. Not crab cakes…. I’m talking authentic Tampa street food - blue crab stuffing, rolled into a bread crumb jacket (which you know had real cuban bread crumbs in it), and then deep fried in hot oil. Yum! Here’s a great article about them, and photos of how they are made, from a restaurant my dad really liked. Seabreeze (which is now closed). http://cltampa.com/dailyloaf/archives/2010/03/09/tampa-foodways-the-conquistador-complex-and-the-lost-art-of-the-devil-crab#.URFR2x2sffc

“I can't think of a more appropriate place to start, than the devil crab, one of Tampa's original culinary creations. The snack first appeared around 1920 as street food in Tampa, concocted when blue crab was plentiful. Heat from red pepper flakes gave the rolls their infernal name.”


This cookbook has a recipe for deviled crabs! Of course, without the cuban bread or blue crab, I doubt I could recreate this treat, but it’s nice to reminisce about them!

Next, I’ll direct your attention back to the photo, above, of the cookbook. See that impossible and outrageous salad on the pirate’s platter? Lettuce, tomato cucumber, kalamata olives feta cheese, avacado, beets, shrimp (sometimes anchovies), bell pepper, onions, etc. and believe it or not, underneath the whole concoction is a base of simple potato salad. I am not kidding. This is what I grew up calling a “Greek Salad”.  Now, I’ll pause for a moment for those who are not familiar with Tampa and who only know of Greek salad from, say, Greece, to giggle for awhile. See, Tampa has a huge Greek-American population. Probably the largest in the nation. Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek sponge divers long, long ago, and they are a thriving community to this day. Among other things, the area is famous for their annual dive for a cross for Greek Orthodox Epiphany.


This year was the 107th celebration, therefore, one can assume that the Greek culture has been an integral part of Tampa for, literally, decades, so, can I please be forgiven for assuming that I should know just what the heck a Greek salad is? Imagine my surprise when I actually went to Greece and the Greek salad they gave me there, was a mere tiny bowl of tomato, onions, cucumber, olives and a few chunks of feta. Don’t get me wrong. I like this sort of salad too, but I was expecting this:

greeksalad and was given this:

greek-salad2Not a single shrimp or carved radish?!? What the…?? I was so sad. Fortunately, this cookbook has the recipe to make Greek salad the Tampa way.  

Speaking about the Tampa way. Not so long ago, NPR had a contest. A debate about which city, Tampa (where the sandwich orignated) or Miami, could claim they had the best Cuban Sandwiches. Read about it here for a fun bit of food related history: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/21/151050107/the-cuban-sandwich-crisis-tampa-v-miami-for-the-win

Of course, Tampa won! http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/04/25/151357876/the-cuban-sandwich-crisis-has-a-winner-tampa  And yes, The Gasparilla Cookbook has the correct recipe for this delicious sandwich… include the Italian salami. Yes. It is an authentic part of the meal. Ybor city of Tampa, famous for cigars, was settled by thousands of Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants in the late 1800’s and that was the birthplace of the sandwich. So obviously, Tampa has the best sandwich!

O yea… and The Gasparilla Cookbook also has a pie crust recipe. Our pumpkin pie was delicious.


CC said...

Junior League cookbooks are the best! I love how they capture regional favorites and family heirloom recipes.

Unknown said...

Hi there Connie! What A wonderful post! I love anything to do with food, culture, and its history. Florida is one of those wonderful locations where one can really see the fusion of food based on population and location :) I also am enchanted how a mere desire to create a dessert conjured up such wonderful memories, and the, as I like to call mine, "Train in your Brain" stopped here and there, picking up passengers, such as family members, and memories and thoughts along the way. You always manage to delight, inspire and create curiosity whenever or wherever I read your literary wanderings.. thank you, and as ever, cheering you on! kimberly