See Florida Now! Unexpected finds in the Celery City

As we approach the dog days and afternoon thunderstorm only make us steamier, here’s an alternative to throwing a Christmas in July party. Beat the heat by imagining a season so cold, it changed the agricultural landscape of our state.

My “See Florida Now” journey led me to Sanford.  I was curious why it’s called the Celery City. As far back as 1894, Florida produced about six million boxes of citrus. Grovers kept pushing the cash crop north, even into Georgia.

Just after Christmas in 1894, two hard freezes sandwiched an unseasonably warm January. The shock on new growth took out even the most mature trees. Land prices plummeted from about $1,000 an acre to a ten spot.

In the Celery City area, agriculturists came up with an unlikely plan to grow celery on grove land. Isn’t it interesting that the Waldorf Salad was invented right about then in 1896? Celery became an American mainstay. Sanford had a new nickname and remained an important port on the St. John’s River.  

A historic city with a focus on food

With Celery City being in such close proximity to Orlando and the connecting Sun Rail system, historic downtown is a perfect day trip for a foodie like me. I was lunching at Sullivan’s Irish Pub the day SpaceX launched. I can’t decide which I’ll remember best: the rocket racing away from Earth or the Guinness gravy I poured over my fries.

Sanford’s not-to-be-missed culinary adventure is Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café. The wait was long that first Saturday night they reopened, with servers wearing masks and Bavarian garb. Thanks to an in with the bar manager, we were seated right in front of the stage—singing drinking songs, downing beer after German beer, and gorging on Jager Schnitzel and potato pancakes.

Allow enough time afterward to walk it off along the Riverwalk on Lake Monroe.

Current tensions in our country remind me of one famous Sanford resident who forever changed professional sports. In 1946, Jackie Robinson drove from Sanford to Daytona Beach to train with the Montreal Royals. Baseball’s first black player did not receive a warm welcome to professional sports, but he helped shape a new culture in America.

A Time Forgotten

Before interstate highways, Disney World and air conditioning, Florida was a different kind of tourist destination. That’s when author Patrick Smith traveled the state to write his historic novel A Land Remembered. He helps us imagine Indians and bears and renegade soldiers sharing the swamps and jungles, worried about war and starvation, even the darkness of night.

Smith’s description helps me picture the St. John’s River as the busy trade route it was. I can almost hear warfare on the banks. I can feel the fear of pioneers as they wait for news that the Civil War has moved closer to Florida, turning Americans against one another.

This pandemic made us all realize how disruption to the supply chain upsets our world. We were nervous about toilet paper and hair color. Early Florida settlers worried renegade soldiers would raid the local outpost, leaving them without gunpowder or cornmeal or salt to swap for coon skins.

When I read A Land Remembered, I get itchy imagining mosquitos as big as birds and shiver learning about that long ago killing cold. Do yourself a favor and take a copy to the beach. It’s essential reading for any true Floridian, native or transplant. You can pick up your digital copy from the comfort of your arm chair, thanks to Manatee County Library’s Hoopla app. https://www.hoopladigital.com/

Photo Credit, Terri White

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2020-08-02