Florida is one of the most popular of all states in the USA for vacations - particularly during the winter months. It is also my home state. In the Panhandle and smaller towns of the interior, Southern style cooking still dominates. Elsewhere, especially in metro Miami and the Florida Keys, local dishes are influenced by the influx of Cubans, Haitians, and Jamaicans, giving rise to the so-called "Floribbean" cuisine. While there are places in Florida where cattle still roam and winter fruits and vegetables are grown, fewer residents are involved in agricultural pursuits today than 50 - 100 years ago. Come to the "Sunshine State" and you can fill your belly with these local foods.
So many choices - oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, pomelos, and kumquats - fresh from the grove during harvest months and eaten sliced or squeezed into juice. Tastes so good and is so good for you! In addition, you will find all kinds of food items for sale with Florida citrus as the key ingredient: honeys, marmalades, even in candies! This is an industry that produces $10 Billion in annual income. No wonder the state flower is the Orange Blossom. www.floridacitrus.org
Many visitors are surprised to learn that Florida is also a place where strawberries are grown. You can even find pick-your-own sections open to the public at some farm locations. The harvest season peaks in March.
If you time your vacation just right, you can join thousands of people who drive over to Plant City each year to enjoy the Florida Strawberry Festival which is a major multi-week event including food, crafts, rides, and live music entertainment. Plant City is located between the cities of Tampa and Orlando. www.flstrawberryfestival.com
Forget any green-colored imitations - this is the real deal. A true key lime is yellow when ripe. This small round fruit is native to the West Indies and has a thinner skin, stronger aroma, and a more tart flavor than its Persian cousin. Juice of the key lime is the essential ingredient to this sweet-tart dessert, along with eggs, condensed milk, a graham cracker crust, and don't forget the fresh whipped cream. Yum!
Conchs are a type of sea snail, and conch fritters are a common and tasty appetizer served by many Florida restaurants. Small pieces of conch are dredged in flour, dipped in eggs, coated with a spicy bread crumb mixture, and then fried in hot oil. The platter will be offered with a creamy sauce that can be butter or mayonnaise based and blended with citrus juices, diced peppers, and even rum - depends on the "house" recipe.
The season for stone crabs starts each October 15th. That is when the commercial fisherman can set their traps and begin the cycle anew. The crabs can regrow the lost claw after several moltings. The most famous place to eat freshly steamed stone crab claws is at Joe's Stone Crab restaurant which has been operating in Miami Beach for more than 100 years! https://www.joesstonecrab.com/
Surrounded on three sides by water, Florida is known as a great place to dine on fresh fish! Local favorites include red snapper, grouper, flounder, mahi-mahi, mullet, pompano, and mackerel. These can be prepared and served many ways. If you have never eaten grilled fish topped with a mango salsa, you must try this. The salsa is a healthy mixture of diced mango fruit, diced sweet peppers, jalapenos, citrus juice, garlic, onions or shallots, and parsley garnish.
An appetizer that tastes like chicken? That is what some people say. Try it blackened or jerk-style. While it is true that the American alligator remains endangered in the wild, what you are eating here is licensed farm-raised stock. If you want to observe live gators and learn more about them, go to Gatorama, a family-operated business located in Palmdale - less than an hour's drive from Ft. Myers in SW Florida. http://gatorama.com/
You do not want to experience a true hurricane - trust me! But during your Florida trip you can try a Hurricane of another type which is a tropical cocktail drink. The ingredients are light and dark rums, passion fruit juice, orange juice, lime juice, syrup, Grenadine, and garnished with an orange slice and a cherry.
Take a sip at the famous Elbo Room (established in 1938) directly across A1A from Ft. Lauderdale Beach and watch people enjoying the surf and sand while you scan the horizon for any incoming storms. http://www.elboroom.com/
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