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What Southern Folks Eat: The year it snowed by the bay

The Star

Each winter I am reminded of the special year that it snowed in Gulf County when I was a fourth grader at Highland View Elementary School. It was so exciting for the children and the teachers alike to see the tiny white flakes floating down over our playground and the beautiful bay across the street, a rare juxtaposition.

There's something especially sweet about life in a small Southern town, I found out quickly after moving to Gulf County as a little girl.

I showed up for my first day of class at Highland View Elementary School in the late 1970s terrified, having just moved to Florida from a huge city in North Carolina the month before. But there was a lovely sense of family at that small, pale green-painted school, so I soon felt at home.

The windows at Highland View Elementary School
Salted caramel praline fudge

Mr. Howard Blick, our principal, God rest his soul, was like a kind, authoritative grandfather, while the young teachers taught us with many hands-on projects and lots of fun. The ladies in the cafeteria made and served us our food with friendly, no-nonsense discipline, keeping us in line as we walked through to pick up our trays and tiny cartons of 2 percent milk.

When winter rolled around that first year of my life in small-town Florida, something special happened. We were in our classrooms, studying spelling or division or whatever was in the lesson plan that day, when suddenly, someone gasped the word, "Look!"

We all ran to the classroom's bank of roll-out windows, and saw little white flakes floating gently from the sky. Snow! We couldn't believe it. 

Ms. Cash, Mrs. Whitfield and Mr. Jones allowed us to bundle up in our coats to go play outside in the gentle snow. We laughed and danced and ran around in the tiny flakes on our little playground, the first snow that some of the children in our school had ever seen. It wasn't Christmas, but it sure felt like a gift to us!

Soon the buses rolled up to take us home early, presumably because St. Joe didn't really know how to deal with the effects of snow, it was such a rarity. But what fun we had while it lasted, playing together on our playground by the bay, dancing and laughing in the lovely snow.

This little girl from North Carolina felt right at home in Gulf County from that day forward, and even now, when I'm away from it, I miss it. It's home.

If you need a gift to make for a loved one or friend or if you want something special for a holiday dessert, try this incredible fudge. For gifting, place a few squares in parchment paper-lined boxes and tie it up with ribbon.

Believe me, this one is special!

Southern-style salted caramel-praline fudge

  • 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 1/4 cups of white chocolate chips
  • 1 1/4 cups of caramel pieces (Kraft caramels, for example)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3/4 cup pecan halves or pieces
  • flaky salt, like Morton sea salt flakes

Method:

  1.  Line a 9 x 9 baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix condensed milk and white chocolate together in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.
  3. When milk/chocolate mixture is melted, pour half of the mixture into the lined pan.
  4. Place caramel and water in medium-sized microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for one minute. Stir. If not smooth and creamy, microwave for 20 more seconds. (This will vary by microwave; use caution.)
  5. Stir the melted caramel well, and pour over the white chocolate.
  6. Sprinkle two or three generous pinches of flaky salt evenly over the caramel.
  7. Sprinkle pecans over the caramel, evenly distributing over the whole pan.
  8. Finish by pouring the remaining white chocolate over the pecans. Use an offset spatula or rubber spatula to smooth the top gently.

Allow to harden for several hours before cutting, and then share with your favorite people.

Enjoy, and have a very Merry Christmas, friends!

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.