What is Sub-Tropic Cookery? Who was botanist & cookbook author Alex D. Hawkes, from Coconut Grove?

“A World of Vegetable Cookery is a result of combining my interests in botany and cooking over a number of years. My researches on my particular botanical specialties- orchids, palms, bromeliads, and certain other groups of plants have taken me to many parts of the globe. Everywhere I have traveled I have had the opportunity to note the good things that appear from the kitchen or campfire.” – Alex D. Hawkes (1968)

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Exploring the fruit and vegetable kingdom with the late botanist, and cookbook author Alex D. Hawkes (1927-1977). Recipes, botany and lore of the fruit and vegetable kingdom.

A World of Vegetable Cookery is a result of combining my interests in botany and cooking over a number of years. My researches on my particular botanical specialties- orchids, palms, bromeliads, and certain other groups of plants have taken me to many parts of the globe. Everywhere I have traveled I have had the opportunity to note the good things that appear from the kitchen or campfire.” – Alex D. Hawkes (1968)

Welcome to Alex’s garden & kitchen… palm and bromeliad expert, orchidologist Alex D. Hawkes shared a lot with us, especially through the recipes he collected, from his world travels as a botanist. We “RecipesLost” hope you get to try some of Alex’s recipes, let us know, try it out, take a chance, have a taste will ya?

Alex D. Hawkes graduated from the University of Miami in the late 1940s as a Botanist. Among his first assignments for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG), in Coral Gables, was documenting the Palms all over the globe. Alex compiled this breathtaking task in a 9 volume work in the early 1950s after traveling the world, while enjoying it quite thoroughly, for the botanical garden. Alex also gathered some papaya “pawpaw” recipes, that will be posted, from his stay at Dr. David Fairchild’s “Kampong” in the Magic City’s Coconut Grove neighborhood. Hawkes was keen enough to collect recipes everywhere he went. His vast recipe file, wherever it may be, will reveal a treasure of recipes. To the person guarding it, thank you. The recipes Alex collected, whether if it was from a hotel he stayed at in Nicaragua during one of his botanical adventures discovering colorful orchids, or from the mountains of Peru and Mexico, were wholesome and honest.

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Dr. David Fairchild & Alex D. Hawkes in the former’s garden “The Kampong” in Coconut Grove, Florida. (1945-02-15)

The caribbean captivated Alex, it’s influence is shown through Alex’s grasp of the many cuisines that make up the West Indies. The caribbean is the home of many beautiful places, but Alex lived only in two, Cuba & where he passed away, Jamaica, his second home away from beautiful Coconut Grove, FL. in Miami. An adventurer, botanist, cook, writer, columnist & more, Alex D. Hawkes left us recipes, to enjoy cultural experiences, and a taste of the past, which is still as delicious as it once was. He traveled the world, Europe, South America, Latin America, India, Japan, & beyond.

Alex played an integral role in South Florida’s bustling botanical circles. He mimeographed and published several independent papers that are now considered collector’s items, on various subjects. Orchids, Bromeliads, Palms and his culinary writing, the elusive, “COOKERY NOTES”. Alex was the coordinator of The Bromeliad Society of South Florida, Inc., serving as temporary Chairman of the Board. Alex was known for hosting high tea in his Coconut Grove backyard garden. These occasions must have certainly called for lovely Floridian menus.  Alex’s notoriety allowed him to maintain a constant flow of correspondence with his colleagues and readers. If you have found any of Alex’s letters, please contact us.

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“Did you know I receive more fan mail weekly than does Marilyn Monroe? … she is now receiving only 80 or so letters a week, while mine runs at least double that!” — Alex D. Hawkes (1962)

Alex’s recipes have been shared and adapted in newspapers by food columnists & cookbook authors in their works. Alex had many friends and shared his mimeographed COOKERY NOTES with countless of acquaintances and food professionals of the era. Authors such as Elizabeth Alston, Nika Hazelton, Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz, Elizabeth Schneider, Bernard Clayton Jr., Cecily Brownstone, Jane Brody, Ruth Gray, Bertha Cochran Hahn & Jane Nickerson have cited Alex or exchanged letters with him. There are more, we hope, do let us know if you find one folded up inside a cookbook while you peruse it. Contact Us -> #RecipesLost In the late 1960s Mr. Hawkes humbly had lunch with Julia Child and James A. Beard at Joyce Chen’s restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was covered by Craig Claiborne in the New York Times (1960s), and Alex’s cookbooks were mentioned thereafter by Claiborne.

Gourmet the Magazine of Good Living, was at the time the premier magazine for food talk. The magazine featured many seminal figures that helped shape the way America eats. Among the many writers to mention, Gourmet would showcase columns by Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (M.F.K. Fisher), and her occasional wine musings. It was not odd for these pieces to appear alongside writings on an endless variety of culinary ‘Delights And Prejudices‘, by none other than the Dean of American cookery, James A. Beard.

In the October (1964) issue of Gourmet, Alex D. Hawkes joined the ranks of several of the cookbook authors he esteemed. With his first cookbook ‘South Florida Cookery‘ (1964) hot off the presses, Alex’s food writing career couldn’t have begged for a brighter red carpet. Alex’s piece for Gourmet featuring the squash like Chayote, ‘Sechium edule’, Cucurbitaceae, was as exciting to read, as it was to prepare. The recipes Alex discovered in Mexico & Nicaragua, during his botanical adventures, are culinary time capsules. After being introduced how to prepare chayotes in quite culturally distinct fashions, Alex returned to his Coconut Grove kitchen with the recipes, and shared them with the world. Chayote recipes will be featured in a later post, stay tuned.

Alex continued sharing his recipes, which landed him a food columnist gig for The Miami Herald, after he won a Cook of the Month title in 1963. Alex continued onto the Miami News in the mid 1960s. Then, via his horticultural society connections, he penned a food writing column in North Florida, for the St. Petersburg Times in the late 1960s, via his column ‘Florida Cookery’, seldomly ‘Southern Cookery’. By the 1970s Alex was dividing his time between Jamaica, and Coconut Grove. In the Caribbean, he was maintaining a daily radio program ‘What’s Cooking’ on Radio Jamaica, cooking TV appearances, & varied columns for The Jamaica Gleaner, on topics such as sightseeing, horticulture, botany, & of course recipes.

Never forgetting his Floridian roots, Alex, simultaneously maintained his ‘Sub-Tropic Cookery’ for The Lakeland Ledger, in central Florida. Jane Nickerson, ex Food Editor of the New York Times, moved to Lakeland, and took on the role of food editor at The Ledger. ‘Sub-Tropic Cookery’ by Alex Hawkes, was an excellent column for Jane Nickerson to have in her food section, since the cuisine in Florida was being shaped quite differently than the rest of the United States of America. This is due in part to the rather recent availability of imported varieties of lesser known rare fruits & vegetables in markets across the U.S.A.. The state’s markets were being influenced by the various cultures, that were all then, calling “The Sunshine State” their new home.

“Though I have been collecting recipes for the use of all types of vegetables for a considerable number of years, it is only comparatively recently that many of the less familiar ones have become available in the United States. This is, to me, very exciting, since this condition opens up a wondrous new field of inventive cuisine.” – Alex D. Hawkes (1968)

Florida also was increasing their production of various culinary staple items that are integral to the cuisines of many foreign lands. Crops such as ginger, chayotes, green beans, radishes, watercress, corn, zucchini, squash, strawberries, guavas, papayas, mangos and plenty more delicious gourds were being grown commercially in the 1960s & 70s in Florida. Alex’s column was surely there for you during Mango season, of course! He’s from Coconut Grove like Mr. Haden, whose wife Florence cared for the mango seedlings brought down via sailboat from West Palm Beach. After her husband’s passing, she had the varietal named “Haden” after the good Captain from Coconut Grove. It is claimed that the original Haden Mango tree is still standing in “The Grove”, on land that was once lived on by the Matheson family. – Photograph of what is believed to be the original ‘Haden’ tree, located in Coconut Grove, Florida

The United States has always been regional, The Great West, The North West, The Eastern Heartland, New England, Creole & Acadian, Southern Style & Florida somehow gets left out of the South. Although not part of the Caribbean, it’s the only subtropic state in North America. Alex Hawkes took full advantage of the knowledge he picked up during his world travels, and assisted Americans with the bountiful heaps of tropical fruits and vegetables that were to be found in their markets.

The United States is perhaps the first country to seek out cuisines from all corners of the globe and make it possible via cookbooks, supermarkets and strong agricultural networks. Alex was interested not just in bringing the recipes home, but also sparking curiosity about how something grew or where it originated. He was able to highlight a vegetable, whether it was misunderstood, or avoided and create something unique yet simple.

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Alex authored hundreds of articles & botanical books. For a list of his cookbooks follow this link -> Alex D. Hawkes – Botanical Works & Cookbooks.

Sub-Tropic Cookery‘ is maintained by the Recipe Hunters @ #RecipesLost. A food history & recipe scavenging project. Share with us via the tag #RecipesLost or send us your recipe request. Have a question or request of what do make or what to do with a fruit or vegetable? Looking for an interesting side dish? Send us an email at RecipesLost@gmail.com ~ Oh yeah! If you have any copies of Alex’s COOKERY NOTES please let us know! Thank you.

Image: Cookery Notes – November 1967 – Vol. 4, No. 1 – Fondues For Everybody!We would like to thank Mr. John Banta who provided us with a few Volumes of Alex Hakwes’ COOKERY NOTES. If you find any pages, please let us know, thank you!

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