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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ 'Cross Creek Cookery' turns 80: Reflections from food writer Jeff Houck

Woman in dress standing among seagrass next to a beach

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Majorie Kinnan Rawlings’ memoir Cross Creek reads like a time capsule of life in rural Florida. Published in 1942, the book became an instant classic for its descriptions of natural beauty, farm life and 1930s race relations in the hamlet of Cross Creek, located between Gainesville and Ocala. Much of the book centered around food, so a natural follow-up that same year was Cross Creek Cookery. 

The literary cookbook paints a picture of Florida through Southern-style recipes like cheese grits, collard greens with white bacon and sliced-cold baked peanut-fed ham. Some of the recipes are quintessentially Floridian, such as kumquat marmalade, turtle soup and alligator-tail steak.

Born and raised in Washington DC, the writer moved to Florida in 1928 with her husband, Charles Rawlings, for a change of scenery. She’s best known for her novel The Yearling, which won a 1939 Pulitzer Prize. She died in St. Augustine in 1953.

During her lifetime, Rawlings hunted, fished, gardened, cooked and ate with gusto.

“You ate what the land gave you, and she liked to eat—which not a lot of women admitted back then,” says journalist Jeff Houck, who wrote about Cross Creek Cookery’s 80th anniversary for the summer 2022 issue of Edible Tampa Bay. (The Zest’s former host, Robin Sussingham, is the magazine’s publisher and editor.)

Rawlings also love to host dinner parties.

“She was the Martha Stewart of her time for her friends, because she loved to entertain,” Houck says. “She loved to have people there.

Among the regular guests were fellow Florida writers Ernest Hemingway and Zora Neale Hurston, whom Rawlings invited to stay with her in the main house—scandalous for a Black houseguest in their day.

“I think that she was ahead of her time,” Houck says. Rawlings was also close with her Black maid Idella Parker, whom she credited for influencing many of her recipes.

Today, Rawlings’s former homestead is the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, where visitors can tour the house and surrounding grounds. They can also visit the nearby Yearling restaurant and lodging cabins.

If Rawlings were alive today, her empire would likely be even more massive.

Says Houck, “She would’ve had her own cooking show these days.”

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