The Significance Of Rabbits & Smoked Pork
Earlier this year Hinckley's Fancy Meats participated in a dinner that brought significant periods in Florida history into focus and allowed their story to be retold through food. We were given the time period of 1763-1783, a time when the British ruled Florida.
During this time period, a Scottish settler named Andrew Turnbull brought about 1500 indentured servants from Minorca, Majorca, Ibiza, Smyrna, Crete, Mani Peninsula, and Sicily. He promised many Greeks who were farming in Turkey better sugarcane growing conditions and religious freedom. Not even on arrival was there enough food and shelter for them.
The indentured servants were tasked with producing hemp, sugarcane, indigo, and rum. They settled in the New Symrna area and sustained heavy losses both from insect-born diseases and Native American raids. Most crops did poorly due Florida's sandy soil conditions. The settlers would eventually flee from Turnbull's harsh rule to St. Augustine, where their descendants survive to this day.
Here is a letter that we wrote to guest speaker and USF historian, Gary Mormino, explaining our thought process for a dish that we created to reflect on this history:
I'm the chef doing the British Rule with African influence and I wanted to share some inspiration with you.
I imagine that a typical slave dinner would be something like this: Boiled Lung of Wild Boar with Fermented Potatoes. But we aren't gonna get $85 per head for that. So here's my take:
Rabbit & Smoked Pork Roulade with datil chilli piccalilli, baby rocket, and citrus pickled carrots
From what I've read about Turnbull, the settlement in NSB was such a disaster that the settlers were trading indigo to Carolina in exchange for food. So it was probably a very tough life for the settlers and much worse for the slaves.
I lived in East Africa for a year and somehow that makes me the default guy on all things related to African cuisine. From what I understand, most of the slaves brought to the States were brought from West Africa. I've read accounts that claim the datil chili made that voyage and has DNA traceable to a pepper in West Africa that goes by a different name.
I've read that some slaves were hunters and fishermen whose jobs were to provide for the other slaves. This gave me the idea of the rabbit. I picture one causing trouble in the gardens where people are laboring. I chose carrots and arugula (rocket) as things that a rabbit might be eating.
I know that nothing was wasted during this time period and that anything that could be pickled or preserved was. So I've pickled the carrots in citrus and wildflower honey, both I would assume as available. I marinated the rabbit hearts and livers in sour cream. I brined and smoked a pig's head - something I see as maybe the scraps off the master's table. And I've used piccalilli, a pickled cauliflower that dates back to England in the mid-1700's. I know Jefferson was trying to grow different types of cauliflower at the time and perhaps the cauliflower on my dish is an example of the Brits trading indigo for the tastes associated with home. I've also flavored the smoked pig head with English mustard.
I chose a contemporary presentation of the dish because I want to reflect on how important African influence was in the development our cuisine. Not too dissimilar from the kids at USF trying to class up budget-friendly ramen noodles, I see the roulade as a way that people would make the most out of what they've been given.
Let me know what you think of my ideas. I love this project and appreciate you taking the time to help out.
We would learn that botanists believe that the datil pepper was originally from the Americas. So it may have made its way to Europe or Africa as part of the slave trade. One of the few places that the datil pepper still grows is in St. Augustine. It is fiery hot like a habanero but with a much brighter and fruitier flavor. The datil pepper is on the Slow Food Movement's Ark Of Taste, a list of species that face extinction. In short, the more we eat, the more farmers will grow.
We also learned that rabbits would have been a comfort food to the Minorcans, with Espana (Spain), literally translating to "Land of Rabbits".
Above all, we were able to reflect on a time when life in Florida was hard and people had to make the most of what was available. And historically speaking, it is during those times of hardships that comfort foods are born. We're happy to share this experience with you and hope that it offers some reflection.
“This magical, marvelous food on our plate, this sustenance we absorb, has a story to tell. It has a journey. It leaves a footprint. It leaves a legacy. To eat with reckless abandon, without conscience, without knowledge; folks, this ain’t normal.”
~ Joel Salatin