In 1825, Fernandina Beach would have been a part of the Territory of Florida. During this time, the region’s cuisine would have been a fusion of Native American, Spanish, and African culinary influence. Enslaved Africans brought with them a culinary heritage that significantly influenced the foodways of the American South, including Florida. Their knowledge of spices, seasonings, and cooking techniques contributed to the development of flavorful dishes including slow cooking, one pot cooking, and stews. Our popular vendor, African Love Kitchen, is owned by Jen and Ibrahim Mayhem. Chef Ibrahim is from Tanzania and he uses many of these techniques and spices in his Tanzanian dishes. Zanzibar, the Spice Islands of Tanzania, rich with the flavors of cardamom, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon are represented by the dishes brought to the Fernandina Beach Market Place farmers market each Saturday.
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) grows on a vine that produces a small white flower. When the flower becomes a berry, they are called peppercorns. The vine is a climber and needs to be supported. The berries are harvested by hand, then left to dry.
Ginger comes from a tropical flowering plant, but it is harvested from the horizontal stems that come from its roots, rhizomes, Irregularly shaped, and beige in color, it has a distinct flavor, is known for its medicinal properties, and is associated with good luck.
Cardamom is from the ginger family and has had strong African culinary influence on our region. Found in Tanzania, it grows in a pod that is dried to preserve the seeds. Of great historic significance, cardamom was particularly valuable for trade.
African Basil is grown for its oils, which are used in flavorings and insect repellant. Also known as clove basil or “scent leaf,” it has a distinctive aroma and is used in various culinary applications. Grown as a shrub, it can get as tall as six feet.
Turmeric is a perineal that grows 3 to 5 feet tall. Like ginger, rhizomes are the primary part of the plant that is used. Not just a spice, turmeric’s intense yellow color is also used as a dye. It has many medicinal purposes, too. It is known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.
During the Colonial era, both the coast of Tanzania and the NE Coast of Florida provided easy access to the mainland. These strategic locations were extremely attractive to conquer. Before external influences, the indigenous peoples of Zanzibar and Amelia Island had their own societies and political structures. Mirrored maritime narratives speak of a time when trade routes crossed the oceans, connecting distant lands, and shaping local palates. While Amelia Island is known for her history of Eight Flags, there were several different entities hoping to rule over Zanzibar and the mainland, Tanganyika, too. Zanzibar and Tanganyika didn’t combine to form the United Republic of Tanzania until 1964.
A seaside trading post in 1825 Fernandina Beach would have been immersed in vibrant flavors and aromas, each telling a story of the diverse African culinary influence that have shaped this coastal haven. Echoes of indigenous cultures and early European exploration have left an imprint by introducing once exotic spices into our local heritage.
As we engage with the vibrant tapestry of 1825 Fernandina Beach in preparation of our Bicentennial, we celebrate the resilience of community, the spirit of trade, and the harmonious fusion of cultures. Our farmers market today displays the spices, flavors, and culinary techniques, borne of distant lands, and how we now weave them into our own kitchens enriching our community’s gastronomic identity that includes a strong African culinary influence.