A few weeks ago, I asked my 94-year-old dad if he had a favorite drink–thinking he might say something like a Manhattan or a Whiskey Sour. He looked skyward for what seemed like a long time, and then he finally announced, “probably cane juice.”
Huh? Cane juice? I guess I’m still learning things about my dad—and learning things from my dad, too. This lesson was about a great memory from his childhood in Savannah, Georgia, which was apparently overflowing with a sugary natural drink that I’d never even heard of.
Poppy enjoying some cane juice
Poppy in 1938
The real thing
pasteurized cane juice, pretty good stuff
Cane juice is made by crushing sugarcane stalks, and it is quite popular across the South, as well as throughout Latin America and in Southeast Asia. People have been enjoying this stuff for generations wherever sugarcane is grown (who knew?). Oh, and cane juice can also be aged to make rum (patience is an even greater virtue than I thought).
Extracting cane juice. Photo by Panther
Cane juice in Indonesia. Photo by Gunawan Kartapranata
Whenever my dad had money in his pocket as a kid, he would stop for cane juice at roadside stands in and around Savannah. He also shared that there were a lot of stands in nearby Guyton, where his Aunt Beth lived on what we’d nowadays probably call a farm (she kept chickens and pigs out back). In the old days, the juice was sometimes made by mules that walked in a circle to power a cane crusher.
That’s Johnny third from left
A mule turns a cane grinder, old school style! Photo by Margie Love, courtesy of Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau
Right around when my dad got his first bike
Before there were bikes, there were sheep-drawn carriages?
Running around the back yard at Aunt Beth’s in Guyton. Photo from Anne Brown
Aunt Beth’s house is still standing today (although it needs a little work)
Fresh cane juice had to either be consumed or refrigerated right away, which wasn’t a hard choice for a thirsty kid (and there wasn’t much refrigeration in those days, anyway).
A stand in 1935. Photo by Russell Froelich Collection
A roadside stand from back in the day. Photo by blizzardofjj.tumblr.com
With my dad’s re-kindled interest in cane juice, my sister found a place close to where he lives in Florida that serves it in much the same way as the stands across Savannah in the 1930s. The community of Bokeelia, on Pine Island, is only about 40 minutes from my folks’ home in Fort Myers, but it feels lost in time. Pine Island still has general stores, motels that advertise in-room color TV, endless fruit groves–and a place calledFruitscapesthat sells amazing fruit as well as fresh-pressed cane juice.
Pretty non-descript from the road, easy to miss
The sign says it all
I don’t even know what these are
The grove out back
Picking the perfect one!
More and more pomelos, a little riper
Inside a pomelo, like a sweeter grapefruit
We stopped into Fruitscapes for a visit this week, and were delighted to find fresh juice—along with pomelos, bananas, persimmons, dried mangos, and a super friendly staff. During our visit, our new friend Cecelia gave us a little education along with a glass of the prized juice. Just as in the old days, she threaded several stalks of sugarcane through a press, and then folded the partially flattened canes in half and did it again. The whole press contraption looked like it was made in 1930, so maybe that’s why the juice tasted so familiar to my dad.
Threading cane through the juicer
threading it a second time
Johnny watching the show and sharing stories
a crushing view
The freshly squeezed cane comes out of this spigot
So, for four dollars, we got a demonstration, a drink, and a chance to hear stories about Savannah in the 1930s. I’m not sure I’d say that I like cane juice better than a Manhattan. But you probably have to drink six Manhattans to take a trip through time, and it only takes one cup of cane juice.
We spent part of our holiday this year in Southwest Florida before heading north to enjoy the snow in Buffalo. While in Florida, we made a new (to us) dish calledCioppinofor Christmas Eve. Cioppino is a soup/stew that features seven different kinds of seafood. It originated with Italian immigrant fishermen in San Francisco in the late 1800s, who were apparently inspired by an older tradition from their homeland. That’s a whole lot of tradition behind what might be a new tradition for us.
The story behind Cioppino is that unlucky Bay Area fishermen would walk around the docks and collect fish from the more successful boats, and then would add tomatoes and white wine to a large pot and make a stew from their random catch. They would expect to return the favor when they had better luck. Sharing a bit of one’s catch sounds like a “holiday season thing to do” no matter the time of year—and shouldn’t every season be the season of giving, anyway?
It was easy for us to get into a seafood theme in Florida, since you are never more than 60 miles from a beach anywhere in the state. A beach theme also seemed to go with the mellower pace of things here–although the calypso vibe isn’t as obvious when you see two people at the local mall fighting over the last cheese log. There are, I suppose, practical limits to the season of giving.
My brother-in-law in mid-carve on a past holiday
My brother-in-law, who is a history professor, shared with us that the original Cioppino took some inspiration from an Italian dish called theFeast of the Seven Fishesthat is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. In Italy, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is called La Vigilia, or “The Vigil.” My brother in law is a fountain of Italian history; he really should do that for a living.
Our favorite seafood place in Southwest Florida isSkip Onein Fort Myers, a locally owned market on Highway 41 that features fresh caught everything. Skip One is primarily a shrimping outfit, but they trade part of their shrimp catch with other types of boats to bring in a full bounty—sort of the commercial fishing version of Cioppino (ok, so that analogy is a bit of a stretch).
Skip One, in Fort Myers
Small space, big punch
Not the best marketing
Lots of choices
Modern day recipe shopping
Love the signage at Skip One!
Souzz marvels at the selection
Things are fileted right in front of you
For our dish, we used a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, and for our seafood we chose grouper, snapper, sea bass, clams, shrimp, mussels, and scallops. In addition to the seven types of seafood, Giada’s recipe includes white wine, diced tomatoes, garlic, shallots, onions, and fennel. We added the seafood to the broth just ten minutes before serving in order to avoid over-cooking it.
Snapper, Bass, Grouper
Making the base
Lots of ingredients
Souzz drinks the cooking wine, go figure
Shrimp, which is Skip One’s specialty
We’re told that Italian restaurants in San Francisco serve a lot of variations of this dish, and some even provide a bib to their patrons (if you’ve seen me eat, that’s another hint for why we chose Cioppino). In the tradition of the city, we served our Cioppino with a beautiful loaf of San Francisco-style Sourdough bread.
Pretty fancy garb for cooking
That’s my niece on the left, Souzz on the right
My sister, neice, and Souzz
My sis with the bread, and even the hot pad is color coordinated!
With my brother and mom. And is my head really that huge? (don’t answer that)
The finished dish
All in all, Cioppino was a fun new recipe, pretty easy to prepare, and delicious. Tradition or not, it’s one thing we did this year that is worth repeating next year (but we’ll order our cheese log ahead of time).
As we awaited the arrival of one of the bigger hurricanes on record, my 92-year-old mom had a question for me. While typing away into her iPad (she’s pretty high-tech), she asked “how do you spell the word hussy?”
Pre-storm, care free! (photo by Norma A.)
Johnny and Margie and her iPad, awaiting Irma
To backtrack a bit, I came down to Fort Myers, Florida to visit my parents a few weeks back and decided to stick around to help out during Hurricane Irma. As expected, we were ordered to evacuate, so we headed across town to a friend’s house that was outside of the evacuation zone. Their fortress of a home (high ground, solid construction, hurricane shutters, generator…and incredibly gracious hosts) was a very welcomed refuge.
Shutters makes it dark…and safe
Our hosts generously took in several others in similar circumstances–so all in all, there were 17 of us (12 adults, five children) in a three-bedroom house, along with a dog and two gerbils (hey, what’s a hurricane without a few gerbils?).
Watching the water build out front
This tiny window required standing on a stool, offered the only view of outside
Water still building
Can’t get much higher…but it didn’t
During the height of the storm
The storm itself was pretty exciting for a Virginia boy, tons of rain and wind that left a lot of standing water and downed trees (it was worse elsewhere in the state).
Lots of standing water, but all of the homes that we could see were above water
Could have paddled to the neighbor’s
Another look at the street
Unlike areas to the south–and unlike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands during Hurricane Maria–we were fortunate to get through without much damage. We did a lot of prep beforehand, moving anything that could blow away, but we also got lucky with the storm track.
Last minute, had time to take off an old satellite dish
No roofing cement? No problem, just put back the old screws
There was some flooding and damage in the surrounding neighborhoods, but for us the challenge was mostly about the long (several days) power outage, the seasonal heat, a shortage of gasoline, and a few health issues that thankfully resolved.
A mystery palm frond appeared in the pool…even though the cage was completely intact. A good Irma mystery.
Through it all, I learned a lot from the locals, who know a thing or two about hurricanes. Here are a few random tips:
Back into the door: Garage doors are one of the weaker parts of a house, and bad things happen when the wind gets in under your roof. A trick is to back your car next to the door (from the inside), set the brake, and wedge in some wood (or whatever) between the door and the bumper to give the garage door more strength.
Strings attached: Our friends had a hanging light above their front porch that couldn’t be removed ahead of the storm. So they tethered it with parachute cord, tying it off to the front pillars on the porch. It made it through, which was nice–but we also know that some folks lost everything, so we tried to keep it all in perspective.
Keep water out, but keep it in, too: It’s old news that a filled bathtub means you can flush the toilets if you lose water, but tub stoppers often leak. Our friends put a little Saran wrap around the plug to help the seal. We never lost water, but we had plenty on hand just in case.
Give your freezer a quarter:Food safety is a big deal after a power outage, so one trick is to freeze a glass of water and put a quarter on top. If the quarter is still on top after power returns, the food in the freezer didn’t thaw and refreeze–and the meatloaf is ok to eat (although I still hate meatloaf).
notice how close the car is to the (soon to be closed) door
Hanging light tethered
A little saran wrap around the stopper
Quarter on top means freezer food is safe
In the coming days, the Fort Myers News-Press was still delivering and was one of our main links to the community and the state!
Lastly, there are some things that I knew before the storm but that were good to see in action again:
You can’t have too much power (unless you are a dictator): Having a few UPS’s (uninterruptible power supplies) on hand is a good thing. The UPS’s work well for charging anything and the batteries last much longer than pocket-sized phone chargers.
Siphons suck: Spend a million dollars on a good one, as the gas in your car is a great resource to feed a generator (if you are fortunate enough to own one). Inexpensive siphons don’t seem to work well with newer cars, and sitting on 15 gallons of gas with no way to get it into a generator is a bad feeling (ask me how I know).
It’s dark, even when it isn’t: With spotty cell coverage, no internet or tv, and radio coverage that was hard to follow, it was amazing how little we knew about the storm. This was true both before, during, and after–even though we were right in the middle of it. At first we had cell reception and Souzz texted us images of the storm track. But the cell towers eventually went down and it wasn’t until days later that we heard details about the damage in the Keys and elsewhere across the state. Looking back, the lack of communications was equal parts unsettling and unburdening.
the track was good to know
football scores and hurricane info, together
Reaching in: People from outside of the area wanted to help…and they did, simply by connecting on the phone (once our phones worked). Friends, family, the NMFA crowd, the 34th crowd, and Red Cross peeps, you know who you are. Connecting with friends by phone or text was a huge boost.
It takes a community: A neighbor that we had never met until the eve of the storm gave us five gallons of gas when we couldn’t get a drop anywhere. Shara and Kevin gave us gas and food and support, Dave fixed our generator the day before the storm (!), Janet from Publix grocery store offered hugs, Jonathan (the pool guy) gave us a big lift, and a total stranger stopped his car to help my mom, pretty cool.
My dad and brother with our hero Dave
The dogs did their part!
It takes a community…or a community chest!
My sis and Marlis
For days, anywhere you saw people in town, Irma was all that they could talk about, and sharing stories was definitely a part of the process. I can’t even count the number of conversations that started with “how did you do in the storm?”
As we put things back together, we went out of our way to thank the employees at Home Depot or Publix or CVS–places that are filling critical needs in the community. Each of those folks had their own story, but they were out there helping us (maybe later they’ll write a blog that is more interesting than mine).
I also recognize that storms hurt even more for those with fewer resources, so we feel incredibly fortunate to have had so much help to bounce back. And our hearts go out to those that lost so much to Irma–and now to devastating Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean–and we are contributing to relief efforts. Our little adventure was pretty manageable when you view it in the context of the areas that were hardest hit.
As for my mom’s question before the storm, she was posting an update on Facebook, and her post ended with “Irma, you hussy, be gone!”