Florida Cracker Cowboys


Florida Cracker Cattle

Humble. That is the first word that come to my mind when I think about my Uncle Lum, a true Florida Cracker Cowboy. You could also say soft spoken, kind, hardworking, and include words in a list that would be a mile long. However, the first one that always comes to my mind is humble. This is true for many of this dying breed of man. I have watched many documentaries, read many books, and had first hand experiences with Florida Cracker Cowboys, and the first thing that always strikes me about them, is their ability to make the conversation about anything but themselves. This is probably why they


Coming up the shoot.

were pivotal in creating the cattle business that Florida Agriculture enjoys today. They didn’t get into the business for fame, fortune, or to change the world. They were born into a deep seeded tradition that gave them the love of the land. When you talk to a Florida Cracker Cowboy, you will soon see that they almost have a one track mind. Everything they talk about somehow goes back to the land and the cattle.


My family still uses horses as their main tool when herding cattle.


Columbus Lowe was born into a large southwest Florida family and at the center of that family was farming. He was a younger sibling with 13 total brothers and sisters, and everyone in the family had their role. His was to learn the land. He started working cattle at a young age and it was here that he developed his lifelong obsession. He can tell you of a time when the area that is now the Port Charlotte Town Center Mall was nothing but raw, untouched land where cattle fed on rich grasses and shaded themselves under oak hammocks. When you rode these lands by horseback, you could look for miles and the


Ready and waiting.

only sign that man had touched the land was the occasional fence line or pen to work the cattle in. These fences and pens are a thing of the past now, and have been replaced by office buildings, retail stores, and restaurants. This doesn’t change the fact that Lum and many like him, paved the way for Florida to be one of the largest beef producing states in the nation. The heritage that they worked a lifetime to protect has managed to survive and


He’s in his spot, the guys better be ready to start sorting!

thrive in a state where tourism and commerce appear to reign. When most people think of Florida, they immediately have a vision of beaches, mouse ears, and retirement communities. This is only a small portion of what my Florida really is. She is still a state where agriculture is king and home to over 5 million acres of land for cattle to graze. That almost one half of the land in our state that is used for agriculture purposes. Our ranchers fight hard to produce a well sought after product, making them the top producer of exported beef calves in the United States. The cows are bred here, by some of the top bulls around, calved, and weaned. Once weaning occurs, the calves are shipped out of state to be finished out. Florida provides the perfect nursery for


The next generation…….

these babies to grow and thrive before becoming a pivotal part of everyday America. And to think, the first cow hadn’t even stepped onto United States soil until they were introduced by Ponce De Leon in 1521. I doubt he imagined his Andalusian cattle would pave the way for an industry that generates thousands of jobs and hundreds of million dollars for Floridians every year.



Looking for direction.

History has given these men (and some women!) the name Florida Cracker Cowboy. This comes from the noise their whips made when they “cracked” them while herding their cattle. A romantic name that has been used in many slang terms throughout the years, but carries deep roots that all true Floridians can relate to.  Whip cracking is a true art form and while it is not used as often as it once was to herd cattle, you can still find men who are upholding this tradition. There are whip cracking contests at many of Florida’s festivals and it is great to see younger generations honing their craft. Luckily, this is keeping Florida Cracker Cowboys alive for the foreseeable future.



These oak hammocks offer relief from the hot, Florida sun.

I have spent time with many Florida Cracker Cowboys, and while they may not be moving very quickly, their minds are always on point. This past February, I was lucky enough to get to photograph my Uncle Lum out with the family getting cattle ready for market. The cowboys had gone out earlier in the day and rounded up all the cattle that were on this particular piece of property and had herded them into pens that were strategically placed under an oak hammock. This is important, especially in Florida where even in February the temperatures and humidity can be enough to drench you in sweat before noon! The oaks offer relief for both man and beast from the brutal sun and offer a nostalgic setting that always makes me think of the conquistadors when they first arrived in this wild and wonderful area. Would they have rested under an oak hammock similar to this one, pushing the Spanish moss out of their way as they dismounted their horses to rest? What did they think of my Florida; did it speak to their hearts as is speaks to mine every time I come home?


Rocking 4L Brand.

After the cattle are penned the real work starts. Ear notching for the young calves and castrating for the young bulls before they are either chosen for market or chosen to stay on the ranch. The guys think they have already predetermined these lists, but Lum, taking his place on the cat walk, is really judge and jury for these animals. He slowly walks up from his pickup truck, just in time to sort out the situation, give them some much needed advice, and climb up on an old board high above everyone else with two gates below him. One side is keep and one side is sell. He is surveying all that he has spent a lifetime building from his worn throne and everyone looks to him for the nod to start. He is chewing on the end of an old cigar that may or may not have been lit at one time and you


Taking stock of the situation.

can’t see his eyes for his old, straw cowboy hat is pulled down to far, giving a shadow over his face. The hat was an off white shade of yellow at one point, but years of time under the brutal Florida sun has caused the hat to brown. It’s a shade of color all its own; one worn of sweat and hard work. It’s a color you won’t find anywhere else. After he takes his seat above his pupils, the guys start running cattle into the sorting pen a few at a time. He surveys each one as they enter, knowing them individually even though he may have never met them before today. You hear them call “right!” “left!” depending on whether or not they are a keep or sell. He has no need for these words. He works his gates, opening and closing them, determining the fate of each animal, with the same beauty a conductor leads an orchestra. No one questions his decisions, and soon this batch of cattle have been worked and sorted through.


A smile from under a worn hat.

The ones who get to stay on this little piece of paradise are in a pen, waiting to be released. The others are loaded onto trailers and taken to market. Lum dismounts his perch and comes back down with us commoners. He would never want the title, but he really is king of this ranch. He’s over 80 years old and has had a longer reign than what most of us could ever dream of having. One day it will be time for him to hand the keys to the kingdom over to the next generation, and he knows they will be ready, armed with the knowledge and guidance he has spent his lifetime bestowing on us. However, until then, we will all just watch in awe as he uses generations of knowledge of keep our Florida Cattle Industry alive and thriving.


His Great Grandson, learning at the boots of the master.



He slowly walks back to his truck, done with his work for the day, and still doing more than what most of us could accomplish in a week! He gives me a grin, marred only by the cigar hanging from his mouth and shaded by his worn hat. He has achieved his goal for the day, moving the family business forward and securing a place in this world for the next generation.


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Swamp Cabbage Heritage


Sharp, as promised……

“Watch yourself with that knife…it’s sharp”, my dad yelled at me. I have been using his knives for most of my thirty-two years and would be surprised if a blade came out of his pocket that wasn’t sharp enough to shave the hair off of your arm, but he still feels the need to remind me every time I pick one up. It’s our own little tradition. He was right to remind me, though. Today I was finally getting to learn to fine art of making swamp cabbage and let me tell you, no part of this is easy and if you didn’t have razor sharp implements you were never going to get to the sweet center of Cabbage Palm to be able to cook it.


This pile of 20 cabbage palms made two large pots of swamp cabbage.

It’s towards the end of February, and a little chilly outside. I could never imagine processing this food in the heat of a South Florida summer. It is grueling work for very little pay. First, men go out and look for the perfect cabbage palms to cut down. They need to be of a certain size to ensure enough meat to make the efforts profitable. They use either large axes or chainsaws and take the trees a little above the ground, leaving a small stump. The top branches are cut off, leaving just a trunk to be hauled back for further handling. For a large gathering, a pickup truck bed full will be needed, and the way my family thinks, if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it a lot!


Tools of the Trade!

Once the cabbage palms are brought in, the real work begins. The next steps are called “booting out” the cabbage. The exterior part of palm is called a boot and a growing palm will shed these as they age. You will find their dried, y shapes on the ground as they peel off fairly easy when allowed to fall off naturally. This is not the case when trying to take green boots to get swamp cabbage. This is where the sharp knives, axes, and machetes come in.


Taking careful consideration on where to start.

I watch as Dad examines each trunk individually to find the best place to start. You cut up one of the Y’s that form naturally and are able to peel the green outer shell to get closer to the center. Depending on how large the cabbage palm was determines how many boots you will need to peel off. There is an art to this. If the palm wasn’t cut at the correct spot in the field, you will need to use a machete to take more of the end off, or the boots will not peel off, however, you don’t want to cut too high or you will cut into the white gold insides that are in such limited quantity to begin with. A trained eye, like his, will cut at the exact right spot almost every time. This is the most time consuming part of preparing swamp cabbage. I watched for hours as he picked each one out of the pile, struck it to make the boots come off, and peel each layer down until the meat was reached. The pile of stumps got smaller as the pile of boots multiplied with each knife cut.




This…gets you that!

As usual, I’m full of questions, and he accepts each one thoughtfully. “Who do you think the first person was who decided to cut down a cabbage palm and look for something to eat?” He thinks it over for a moment and says, “Well, I’m not for sure, but I was always told that the Indians saw the bears tear into the trees and eat the hearts. They got the idea from them.” Who knows if this story is true or not, but it seems like a plausible answer to me. Bears in Florida were very plentiful as one time and I imagined them with their giant claws ripping


The ending pile is bigger than the beginning pile!

trees apart and sitting down to tear out the hearts. When in reality, they probably started eating the insides of trees that had fallen during a hurricane or tropical storm and had begun to rot, making them easier to get into. The Indians had probably seen this and through trial and error found what worked as a food. When settlers learned of this, they probably added their own spin to the process, which is probably very similar to what I was witnessing at this very moment. It’s pretty cool to watch my dad do something almost identically to how one of my forefathers would have done it many generations before.


Just like a bear!

I learned many things about the state tree of Florida that day. Cabbage Palms are considered a delicacy in many fine dining establishments, however, they give them the much for appealing name of hearts of palm. Yep, if you’ve ever seen hearts of palm on a menu, you were in fact seeing swamp cabbage dressed up for a ball. You could order it and enjoy a fine interpretation of my heritage, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be nearly as delicious as what I was going to learn to cook later that day.


Now we’ve gotten to the sweet spot!

The next step cannot be learned just from watching, tasting is involved. Once the trunk has decreased to almost 1/3 of its original size, it’s time to start looking for the prize! You will feel and see a difference in the texture at this point. The meat starts to become a more stark white color and will have more give when pressed, almost like a dense sea sponge. While this is a great way to know you’re on the right track, the only way to know if you’ve taken off enough boots is to taste. Raw swamp cabbage should have a sweet flavor and no after taste. If you taste any bitterness, take off another layer and try again. While some of the bitterness can be cooked off, we’ll be discussing that shortly, you want to help your cook out as much as you can by removing the bitter layers before presenting it to the pot. Once you have gotten to the sweet center, you begin to cut the cabbage into chunks. This is pretty easy, since the meat is fairly soft and is still layered. From one trunk, you may get two large handfuls of useable meat, if you’re lucky.


A better view of what we’ll cooking!

Now it’s Mom’s turn to take over. While these steps may not be as labor intensive, the knowledge is that she is passing down is invaluable. The recipe that I am being told, because you never write family secrets down, dates back many generations. My family was some of the first to settle in Punta Gorda, a small town on the Peace River, nestled in the Gulf of Mexico, and currently, with the birth of my nephew, the sixth generation of her family tree resides here. This delicacies roots run deep with my family and when anyone in town needs some done for an event, they know who to ask! While there are several families who still cook swamp cabbage fairly regularly, the recipe shared with me is like none other and always leaves you wanting more.


That bowl only filled about three times.

The cooking is a two part process. Remember that bitter we talked about earlier? By boiling down the swamp cabbage before you actually start cooking it, you are able to skim off the bitter. It’s actually a pretty neat process. You put your swamp cabbage in a large pot and fill with water. Then, you let it come to a slow boil and you will start to notice a bubbly foam appear on the surface of the water. You can spoon this off and discard it. This is whatever bitter flavor might be left after the cleaning process. Now, you may ask why you couldn’t use more of the meat that I just said we discarded, because it was bitter to taste and just take care of that during the cooking process. This is a legitimate question that I asked and the answer is simple….to get all of that bitter out and to make those pieces tender enough to enjoy, you would have to boil it way too long and it would take the flavor out of your good pieces.

Once you’ve drained, the real fun starts. I can never get enough of that glorious smell that is onions and pork fat rendering together. The aromas take me home every time and this occasion was no different. I watch my mom’s movements through the kitchen, like a dancer who had performed this routine a thousand times. She started her roux and at the precise right moment, known only to her, she added the waiting cabbage. Her work is not done here. It’s really just beginning. Once the water is added and it comes to a slow boil, she begins her magic. This is not a dish to just sit and forget. You need to taste and adjust your seasoning to get the perfect blend of sweetness from the swamp cabbage blended with your chosen spices. Just like booting out the trunks, you have to take your time to do it properly or you will miss the beautiful flavors the cabbage palm is gifting to you.


This is traditional South Florida cuisine at it’s finest!

The cooking process was a tradition that I’ve been waiting to receive for years! I have always heard everyone rave about my Mom’s swamp cabbage, from the time I was a little girl and now it was finally my turn to learn her well kept secrets. This is recipe that evolves with each generation. Every time it is handed down, the recipient is encouraged to add their own twist and that becomes her secret. I’m not sure what I’ll add or maybe my secret will be keeping it the same…..

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Here is the recipe that I have permission to share. While it is a very good recipe and your guests will be super impressed, it’s not my Mom’s recipe! That is a secret that I will be passing along to the next generation.

Tradition Florida Swamp Cabbage

After you have found someone to boot out and cut up your cabbage palm, follow these steps for a delicious treat!


Cabbage Palm – booted and cut up

Onion – diced

Pork Fat – cubed

Salt – to taste

Pepper – to taste

Your choice of seasonings


1. Put your cabbage in a large pot with enough room to will with water to cover the swamp cabbage completely.

2. Over medium heat, bring the pot to a slight boil.

3. When the pot starts to boil and bubbles start to form at the surface, scrape them off with a spoon and discard. You are getting rid of any bitter taste that might be present.

4. When bubbles are no longer appearing on the surface, about 15 minuets or so, depending on how much you are cooking and how well it has been booted and cleaned, drain the swamp cabbage from the pot.

5. Return the pot to the stove and over medium heat, render your fat with the onions until the onions are well sweated.

6. Add the swamp cabbage back to the pot and water again to cover the swamp cabbage for it to boil.

7. Once it starts boiling, lower your heat to a simmer and add your salt, pepper, and any other seasonings, tasting as you go.

8. You will need to taste and adjust your flavors throughout the next few hours while your cabbage simmers.

9. It is done when the swamp cabbage is tender and has a good flavor.

10. Some people serve with saltine crackers or hot sauce, but in my house it tastes so good you don’t need anything but a bowl and a spoon!

If you get your cut up swamp cabbage and aren’t going to cook it right away, you can store it in your refrigerator in water until you are ready to cook it.


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Caviar display!!

By following my simple tips in this video, you are sure to impress all of your guests at any gathering or event! Caviar can elevate any party or bring a bit of whimsy to your day and can be done without breaking your budget!

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Doctored up Deviled Eggs!

I partnered Cocktails with Cally for this one… In the video, take a shot every time I say um! My Mom has been getting on to me about this, and it’s becoming an obvious issue 🙂 Something to work on for future videos! In the mean time, enjoy my tips on taking this humble appetizer to the next level and impressing all of your guests at any event!


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Building the Perfect Meat and Cheese Board!

In this video, I will give you my favorite tips for building the perfect meat and cheese board!

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Bruleed Cheesecake!!

In this video, Baby Foodie and I show you a super easy dessert that is sure to WOW all of your guests and keep them coming back for more!

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Compound Butters

Compound Butters are really just normal butters with herbs a flavorings added to compliment your meal and add a ton of flavor at the end, similar to that of a finishing sauce. We are having steak for dinner tonight and compound butters are the perfect way to add flavor to grilled meats. This method is also perfect for smothering over baked potatoes and side vegetables. You can do sweet or savory and put out with your bread as well! The possibilities are endless. ENJOY!

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