(Note: I wrote this column when Hurricane Michael was still brewing, when we all hoped that he'd die a quiet death out in the beautiful gulf. He did more damage than I could ever have imagined, but there is also more love among our people than I never knew existed. - Steph)
Living in Northwest Florida is one of the greatest blessings I can think of. I love our white sand, clear waters, palm trees, and palmettos. I love the sunsets, the rainy afternoons, and the food, fresh from our own waters. But more than anything, I love the people of this part of the state.
I grew up in Gulf County, as I’ve proudly stated a number of times in this column. I spent innumerable hours lying in the sun, walking the shore, and helping mom devein shrimp. (I didn’t enjoy that last experience as much as the first two.) I attended Beach Baptist Chapel near our house practically every time the doors opened. Some of my best friends were met there. I went to Highlandview Elementary School, and graduated from Port St. Joe High School. Each of those things helped make me the person I am today, and I am fiercely proud of being a local.
The people, though, made my childhood and teenage years so unique and full of a sense of community….even of being family. A number of teachers in our schools felt like second mothers to some of us; if we had a problem, there was someone we could talk to about it. If we needed scolding, they didn’t mind telling us to straighten up and act right.
Similarly, the people in our church might not have been blood relatives, but it sure felt like it. The ladies cared for families if anyone was sick or hurt...or worse...by bringing food, cleaning, organizing, and praying. The pastors of our church over the years were available to us, offering prayers and assistance in any way they could, whether folks were church members or not. It was like our community was a great big extended family. I loved that, and I hope your church is that kind of place.
A reflection of that kind of sense of loving community was observed back in June when a controlled burn got out of control in Eastpoint. The report in The Star said, "The fire, whipped by blustery winds, ravaged a community, consuming, in total or in portion, 40 homes, countless cars and boats, and leaving nearly 140 homeless, “complete devastation.”
God forbid that should ever happen to anyone, but it did, and when it did, the communities around Eastpoint didn’t sit on their hands offering platitudes. They offered food, clothing, water, and money. They took people into their homes, some who were relatives, some who weren’t. That tragedy highlighted once again the kind of people who live in NWFL. Most are middle income or lower, hard working, opinionated, loyal, and would give you the shirt off their back, as the saying goes.
So, whatever happens with the latest storm brewing in our beautiful waters, I know that our people will survive. We will help those who need help. We’ll take in anyone who needs a place to stay. We’ll volunteer to clean up limbs or whatever has come down. We’ll bring food and water to those working to clean up any debris. We’ll check on our neighbors, especially the sick or elderly. We will be there for each other, because that’s what Floridians do in the face of adversity.
We are family.
Now, I know that we all stock up during storms, just in case we lose power and need to eat things that are non-perishable, like canned goods. Just make sure you have a manual can opener handy in case you lose power for any length of time. And if the best happens and the storm fizzles out and doesn’t cause a ruckus, you’ll have a beautifully stocked pantry full of canned goods to use throughout fall and winter.
Here’s one of my favorite uses of canned vegetables; I call it 10-Can Soup. Give it a try with all your delicious canned veggies, and feel free to add or take away any that you’d prefer to. It’ll be delicious and filling, either way.
10 can turkey-vegetable soup
Two 15 ounce cans chicken broth
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can whole kernel corn
1 can green beans
1 can black beans
1 can purple hull peas
2 cans sliced new potatoes
1 can peas and carrots
Seasoning blend, like Tony Chachere’s
1 medium chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon celery seed, or 2 stalks chopped fresh celery
1 pound to 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey or other ground meat
2 cups V-8 or tomato juice
In a soup pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat, brown the ground meat. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add the onion and celery or celery seed, and cook until onion begins to become translucent, stirring frequently.
Open the cans of vegetables, and drain each, except for the tomatoes. Add all canned vegetables to the pot.
Stir in the V-8 juice and about one teaspoon of the seasoning blend.
Simmer soup over low-medium heat, stirring frequently. Taste and add more seasoning if needed, a scant 1/2 teaspoon at a time to avoid over-salting.
Serve with crackers or hot cornbread. Like most soups and stews, this tastes even better the next day!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph." She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three sons who are significantly taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.