If you've ever been to Key West, you'd have noticed them everywhere. The chickens. Walking across the street, hanging out at restaurants and bars as if they were Hemingway reincarnated.
In researching what islanders ate during 1856, the time in which Angels Sinners and Madmen takes place, one thing was clear - they made good work of the abundance of seafood.
Apparently conch shells were so plentiful, they ate the meat of the creature within, although it was apparently very tough, according to this recipe for Conch Chowder, handed down through generations. Key West residents transplanted from Bahama were called Conchs also.
3 onions, finely chopped
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can whole tomatoes, undrained and cut up*
2 1/2 to 3 pounds conch meat, cleaned and ground**
2 potatoes, peeled and finely chopped
2 quarts water (approximately)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
* To easily prepare the tomatoes, use a sharp knife and cut the tomatoes while still in the can.
** Because conch meat is very tough, you must grind it using a meat grinder or food processor.
In a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, add onions, garlic, bell pepper, and tomatoes; cook until vegetables are soft. Reduce heat to low; add ground conch meat, potatoes, and enough water to make it soupy but not watery. Let simmer 1 hour. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and serve in individual soup bowls. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
I found several references to camperou, a favorite drink in the mid-1800s, but the best recipe I could find was rather vague: The favorite social drink is camperou, a compound of caracoa, eggs, Jamaica spirits and other ingredients.
Hm. 'Other ingredients' leaves it pretty wide open.
I'll feature more island recipes tomorrow, but you can also find Key West Recipes here.