"" Writer's Wanderings

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Key Largo Pineapples?

Right by the elevator in the condo building where we stay in the winter is a planter that is on the outer wall. On one end is a bougainvillea. One the other end is a pineapple plant. I don't know who lays claim to it but it is fascinating to watch it grow and mature into a pineapple fruit. This year we were able to see that it actually blooms with little bluish flowers before forming the fruit.

I was surprised to learn that back in the late 1800s, Key Largo was known for pineapple production. There were acres and acres of pineapples on fields that were cleared and burned. The pineapple slips for planting came from Cuba originally.

Unfortunately it was difficult to get them to market in the northern states before they would spoil. The pineapples had to be shipped by schooners and the wind and weather was not always cooperative. About 25% of the fruit would spoil before getting there.

Life was made a little easier when the railroad extended to Miami and pineapples could make a shorter schooner journey and a faster trip to their markets by rail.

In 1906 a devastating hurricane hit the keys and destroyed much of the pineapple fields. It was followed by a blight which did in the pineapple farming business.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Floating Lighthouse

Today's Carysfort Reef Lighthouse
Reading along in the book about the early Florida Keys (The Florida Keys, A History of the Pioneers by John Viele) my interest was piqued by a place called Garden Cove just at the northern end of today's John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and where the Overseas Highway (US 1) makes a sharp turn and heads south through Key Largo and on to Key West. The way Garden Cove got its name was very interesting.

The reefs along the east coast of the keys were disastrous to ships who were unfamiliar with the area. Lots of shipwrecks brought about the big business of wrecking, the term in those days for salvaging from shipwrecks. The government decided to commission a floating lighthouse, a ship that would anchor on the reef and warn ships away with two lanterns and a bell.

The first ship that was sent fell victim to "dry rot and fungus" and had to be replaced. The replacement was called the Florida and was made of rot resistant live oak. But that was not the only problem John Whalton, the captain of the ship would have to deal with.

Supplies were not only hard to come by, they were very expensive so he had the crew go ashore and establish a vegetable garden on the shore. This is where Garden Cove got its name. Unfortunately it would eventually be the end of Whalton and one of his crew.

There were several uprisings of the Seminole tribes in Florida in the mid 1800s and during the second Seminole War, Whalton and his men went ashore to find themselves ambushed by the natives who were armed with muskets. Whalton and another crewman were killed immediately and the others ran for the tender and rowed for their lives back to the ship.

The floating lighthouse, the Florida, served until 1852 when it was replaced by the present day Carysfort Reef Lighthouse.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Wrecking Profession of the Florida Keys

Yes. You read the title correctly. Back in the early days of the Florida Keys' history many of the natives and the non-natives were in the wrecking business. That didn't mean they went around wrecking things actually the things they were looking for were already wrecked--ships with valuable cargo.

Way back in the day before GPS and smartphone apps with directions, the ships would set sail to travel from one side of the globe to another and often went through the Florida Keys. The area was strewn with reefs, dangerous ship eating reefs that set many a sailor scrambling for shore in a life boat. Needless to say there probably wasn't much time to save the gold and jewels so those went down with the ship.

At first the Spanish hired natives to help salvage what they could from the Spanish fleet that sunk there in the early 1600s. Many of the natives were good divers and could help out especially with those ships that sunk rather than just ran aground.

Along came the industrious wreckers, the guys exploring the coast line looking for where ships, most Spanish, went down and they would salvage what they could for resale or ransom. While many of them came out of Cuba, they needed a place in the Keys to put ashore. Key West had a beautiful natural harbor and it became a perfect place for a small colony of settlers to set up a town and trade for supplies and, I'm guessing, get a little entertainment as well. After all it was Key West!

Now some of the wreckers just anchored off shore and waited to hear of a ship run aground. They would not only salvage cargo but also crew and of course it was all for a price. This was a business after all--excepting the pirates though. I'm sure they had their own agenda.

Eventually courts needed to be set up to judge disputes over property rights and the like. Laws needed to be made. Hmmm. I'm wondering who the early lawyers were. Back to the history book. . .

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Early Floridian Keys Diet

Sea Grape
Last year we visited the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center and I was intrigued by the history of the Keys. I purchased a book and have just now gotten around to reading it. The first chapter struck me when it mentioned the early diet of the natives that inhabited the keys early on. I assumed a diet of food from the sea and I was right but didn't think about it including manatees. According to the author though the manatees were reserved for the chief and other bigwigs.

But what did they eat with it? After all a good healthy diet needs some fruit and veggies. The paragraph went on to say that they also ate coconuts (a given) and a variety of wild fruits that included sea grapes, coco plums and palm berries. Now you can't take an Ohio girl and put her in a tropical climate and expect her to know the plants so I began a little search for knowledge.

Coco Plum
Sea grapes are a familiar plant seen often near the shore line in many southern beaches. I remember seeing warning signs in several places telling people that sea grapes are a protected plant in Florida. The plant can grow quite large and offers a lot of shade to areas where other shade trees may not be able to grow. They produce grapes similar to those we find to make wine from or eat as a snack. The sea grapes I learned are not particularly palatable on their own. They have a sweet acidic taste. You only eat the dark purple ones and apparently they are more seed than flesh.

People who do harvest them for consumption usually make a jelly from them. Just be aware that in Florida you can only harvest from plants grown on private property and you absolutely need the owner's permission.

Another fruit that apparently should be made into jelly for eating is coco plum. I didn't realize how prevalent this plant is in the landscape. One report said that the fruit tastes like "astringent sweet cotton." I'm not sure what that means.

I have seen palm trees that have berries rather than large coconuts but never knew that they were acai berries. Where have I been? Acai is one of those fruits held in high esteem for curing all sorts of things and slowing aging. I used to buy them in the store because I liked the taste of them covered in chocolate. (If I found a good recipe for chocolate covered broccoli I might start eating more of that).

Acai Berry
The trick with all of these is to know what is a good berry and what is not which makes me wonder how many natives died or got really sick before they discovered the difference. Oh, and wash them down with good water. There were several places in the keys where there were actually fresh springs or pools of water.

Well, now that I've learned all that it's time to go back to reading. I'm to the part where the Spaniards and the British are skirmishing over the rights to the Florida Keys. And let's not leave that close neighbor Cuba out of the dispute. Then there's that upstart country called America. I hear they won out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dolphin Mania!

Each night about fifteen minutes before sunset people at our condominium gather together to watch the sunset. It's a great way to make new friends, catch up with others, share how the day went and often where the best places to eat are.

Lately the sunsets have not been the greatest since there have been several fronts that have moved in at the wrong time. (Not complaining. No snowy Nor'easters) Sunday night was another bust as a wall of clouds covered the sunset and all we got were gray skies. There was however a lot of entertainment.

A pod of dolphins (we think there were five) were spotted. A couple of them were coming close to shore and I went out on the dock to get a closer look. I tried taking a couple of stills but couldn't catch the dolphins surfacing. Guess my finger just isn't quick enough on the trigger and it was hard to tell where they would come up next.

So after several misses, I decided to video the action. Was I glad I did! We were entertained by a dolphin who'd caught his dinner but instead of eating it was tossing it in the air, catching it, swimming in a circle then repeating the whole thing.

I think I could have labeled this "Stop playing with your food!" I left the sound on the video because I think it's neat to hear how excited and in awe we all were.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Books For The Road - The Other Einstein by Marie BenedictA

Not sure what to expect, I began reading The Other Einstein with great curiosity. I had never thought about Albert Einstein as a husband or father and so I'd never really wondered about his wife or if he even had one. Marie Benedict has taken her research into the marriage of Albert to Mileva Maric and created a fascinating look at what their relationship may have been like.

Mileva was a brilliant physics/math student at Polytechnic in Zurich, Switzerland, when Einstein met her in the early 1900s. A romance blossomed albeit a little quirky with two such great minds centered on science and the most pressing theories of the day.

In the 1980s, some correspondence between Albert and Mileva was discovered that began to stir a controversy in the scientific world. In it Albert refers to several of his theories. Some he refers to as "my theory" and others, "our theory." It all sparked speculation that perhaps Mileva had contributed heavily to his theory on relativity.

Benedict plays off of that discovery of the letters and explores the possibility that Mileva had a lot to do with the theory. She also delves into what it must have been like to be a woman in a scientific world of men and the choices that a woman had to make between family and career--not terribly unlike what we have today although today's woman is not looked upon quite so unfavorably when she chooses to juggle family and career. Still daunting, then and today.

This is a great read although Albert does not win any great accolades for husband or father of the year.

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