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Florida's Culinary History In "The First Coast Heritage Cookbook "

Jeffery Spear/In Good Taste Press

This week marks the 500th anniversary of Juan Ponce de Leon's arrival in Florida. On April 2nd, 1513, the land we know today was claimed as a Spanish territory - they named it La Florida, or "the land of flowers."

It's no coincidence, then, that author and food marketing expert Jeff Spear chose April 2nd to release his new book about the culinary history of northeast Florida, The First Coast Heritage Cookbook

In the book, Spear examines how the state's many inhabitants - indigenous American Indians as well as Spanish, French, British and African settlers - have influenced the way we eat today. Here's the twist: the collection of recipes is based on the types of foods those peoples were eating at the time, stretching from 14,000 BC through 1812.

In his appearance on First Coast Connect this morning, Spear said he was surprised to learn while doing research for the book that many of the foods we take for granted today did not exist in Florida before the arrival of foreign settlers.

"The thing that shocked me the most is that before the Spanish arrived... there was no citrus here," says Spear. "The things that everybody brought - chocolate, oranges, cherries, apples, tomatoes, peaches, bananas, sugar, rice - the list just goes on and on... before the 1500s when we started having exploration, these foods just weren't moving around."

While you may be leery of a meal from 14,000 BC, Spear says there is no reason to worry.

"The recipes are appropriate for today - it's not historical recipes that taste badly or aren't properly crafted. Every recipe in the book I personally tested, so for the past couple of years I've been eating pretty well." 

Sean Birch joined the WJCT team in late 2011 and was with the company until 2016.