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It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Cracker Country Christmas

Before Instant Pots, Amazon wish lists and catered holiday dinners, there were community hog killings.

“They used every part except the squeal of a hog,” says Cindy Horton, director of museum operations at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa.

The property includes Cracker Country, a living history museum with a house, school, church and other buildings constructed between 1870 and 1910. Together, the structures represent how home life, transportation and commerce for rural Floridians, also known as Crackers, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This includes, of course, how they ate. Every fall, communities would gather to slaughter the hogs each family had raised. Neighbors shared the work, and the spoils showed up on holiday tables in various forms, from smoked pork to cakes with jelly made from hog hooves.

And the holiday drink of choice? Coffee with bacon grease. The concoction “doesn’t sound good at all to me,” Horton notes.

That’s a far cry from the eggnog and gingerbread lattes we enjoy today. But some holiday food traditions are timeless. Florida’s early settlers had kitchen gardens, and on holidays they enjoyed familiar dishes like baked potatoes, sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. They also had options beyond what they could grow or trade, thanks to the arrival of the railroad refrigerated train cars.

“By this time period, food wasn't necessarily only just what you would find close to your home,” Horton says. This included flowers, spices and canned goods from other parts of the country. This included canned apples that meant the introduction of apple pies alongside citrus desserts.

Pies, breads and other items were baked in a cast iron oven that had no temperature control. Women did the cooking. And while Florida’s early settlers enjoyed many of the holiday foods we eat today, there was a lot more prep involved back then.

“We just have so much variety at our fingertips today,” Horton says. “They would’ve been doing all of the food preparation themselves.”

At least they kept up their strength with bacon coffee.

You can learn more about the holiday traditions of Florida's early settlers during Christmas in the Country on Dec. 14 at the Florida State Fairgrounds and in episode 32 of The Zest podcast.

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