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The Zest: Old Florida And Cracker Cooking

The Florida Cracker Cookbook
Joy Harris
The Florida Cracker Cookbook

Cookbook author Joy Harris knows Florida. She is a sixth-generation Floridian who grew up in the Panhandle eating the country food of her ancestors.


Harris, who is married to Tampa Bay radio personality Jack Harris, lives in Tampa now. She can rattle off Florida history like the most knowledgeable teacher, and she was indeed a teacher in another life.  She also writes about Florida culinary history at

Her latest cookbook weaves the state’s early culinary roots together with recipes that celebrate local ingredients and customs. The Florida Cracker Cookbook: Recipes & Stories from Cabin to Condo takes readers and cooks from turtle soup to mocha lattes, and from rural cabins with no electricity to high-rise condos. 

In excerpts from the book, Harris writes that the following five ingredients, among others, typify authentic Florida cuisine: 

Cane syrup. “Sugar cane syrup was a staple in Florida households, and community cane-grinding celebrations were part of these homesteaders’ highlights. The cracker community came together in the fall to pool their time, energy and resources and produce enough Florida cane syrup for all who volunteered to help.”

Sweet potatoes. “Cracker families had sweet potatoes baked for dinner and leftover for breakfast without the luxury of putting them into waffles with maple syrup; however, sweet potato pie is still a cracker favorite. My father showed me the best way to cook sweet potatoes. … I slow bake the potatoes in 275- to 300-degree oven for about 90 minutes, depending on size, then top them fresh from the oven with butter.”

Coffee. “The savory aroma of coffee drifted through the rafters of a cracker cabin, with a cool morning breeze blowing through the open windows is something of a dream. Looking back in time to some of the first methods of preparing this morning beverage in rural Florida, up to today with all of our time-saving devices, it’s a story of ingenuity and perseverance.”

Biscuits. “My granny’s and my mother’s biscuits are a reminder of water drawn from a well, a red kitchen pump, a treadle sewing machine tucked away in a corner, the smell of her wood-burning stove and freshly churned butter. Today, you can drop, roll and cut, pull, pat or beat the dough to create a biscuit. The choices are plentiful: soda, buttermilk, sweet potato, cheese, cathead, ham or sausage, or angel biscuits.”

Boiled peanuts. “Ground nuts, or pinders, are a Southern legume. When boiled, they have been called ‘cracker caviar’ or ‘redneck edamame,’ better known as boiled peanuts. My father loved his peanuts roasted or boiled.”

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