Zora Neale Hurston and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings in St. Augustine
Sponsored by Historic Coast Culture and St. Johns Cultural Council
Novelist and cultural anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston wrote plenty about southern food. In a November 1942 letter from St. Augustine, Florida, Hurston wrote that she had finished her book and had been enjoying southern Florida food.
As she puts it, “I am down here trying to polish up my book, write three plays and keep on eating.” Hurston’s writings describe her constant search for affordable food. She, like many during the Great Depression, struggled to keep on eating while poor.
Hurston was born in Alabama around 1891, the daughter of a former slave-turned-sharecropper, and was brought with her family to Eatonville, Florida, in 1894. All of her four grandparents had been born into slavery. In her early career, Hurston conducted anthropological and ethnographic research while a student at Barnard College and Columbia University.
The most popular of her four novels is “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” published in 1937. She also wrote more than 50 short stories, plays, and essays.
Hurston lived in St. Augustine on several occasions during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Yet while she was one of the most prominent writers to come out of the Harlem Renaissance, she died in near obscurity in 1960, in Fort Pierce, Florida.
A rediscovery of her works during the 1980s and 1990s led to a wide and new appreciation. In 2003, St. Johns County and the Florida Department of State recognized her home at 791 West King Street as a Historic Landmark. In 2016, the St. Augustine City Commission named the park on the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and King Street in her honor, complete with a sign documenting her legacy and association with the city.
Famous author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), best known for “The Yearling” and “Cross Creek,” also spent time in St. Augustine with her husband Norton Baskin, who owned Castle Warden Hotel (currently Ripley’s Believe it or Not!).
Rawlings entertained literary guests at the hotel, including Zora Neale Hurston.
First published in 1942, Cross Creek Cookery was compiled by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at the request of readers who wanted to recreate the luscious meals described in Cross Creek — her famous memoir of life in a Florida hamlet.
Lovers of old-fashioned, down-home cooking will treasure the recipes for Grits, Hush-Puppies, Florida Fried Fish, Orange Fluff, and Utterly Deadly Southern Pecan Pie.
Hush Puppies Recipe
Serves 3 to 4
1 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 small to medium onion, minced
¼ cup milk or water
Mix together the dry ingredients and the finely cut onion. Break in the egg and beat vigorously. Add the liquid.
Form into small patties, round or finger-shaped. Drop in the deep smoking fat in which the fish has been fried until they are deep brown.
Serve hot and at once.
(Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Cross Creek Cookery, 1942)