Even Papaya’s Leaves Are Tasty… Breakfast at “The Kampong” with Dr. & Mrs. David Fairchild

“The papaya is one of the tropics’ most extraordinary plants. It is not a tree despite its appearance, but rather a woody herbaceous plant, one of the fastest growing species known.” — Alex D. Hawkes

Imagine sitting in a botanical oasis in Coconut Grove, enjoying breakfast papaya, under a Javanese Ficus tree. Not just an ordinary ficus, for this one was planted by the late Dr. David Fairchild, the “Columbus of American Horticulture,” at his Coconut Grove home, “The Kampong”. The seeds were undoubtedly collected during one of his innumerable botanical expeditions around the world. His home, “The Kampong”, is preserved, and still open for one’s amazement and enjoyment. The Fairchild’s Coconut Grove retreat, “The Kampong”, faces the serene Biscayne bay. Let’s reminisce of the Royal Palms (Roystonea regia) that lured the Fairchilds to phone Marian’s parents, and ask them for a loan to secure the property. Marian Hubbard Graham Bell, Dr. Fairchild’s wife, is the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell, who stayed at “The Kampong”, like many other distinguished characters of the time, on several occasions.

“The handsome, big, hand shaped leaves are edible, when boiled in several changes of water, and the late great horticulturist David Fairchild often advocated that all of us eat them regularly, whether at his table in his home, “The Kampong.” Where I lived when I first came to Coconut Grove, or at our own.” —  Alex D. Hawkes


“The royal palms which so took my fancy when we first saw the place were photographed often in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties, after mangroves had begun to line the canal. But a change in the land level flooded their roots too frequently with saltwater and they perished.” — David Fairchild (1947)

Dr. Fairchild authored books with alluring titles such as,“The World Was My Garden: Travels of a Plant Explorer” (1938), and “The World Grows Round My Door: The Story of The Kampong, a Home on the Edge of the Tropics.” (1947) . These ideals are not easy to claim. Dr. David Fairchild exceeded them by far. Dr. Fairchild introduced over 200,000 plants & varieties of established crops into the United States. He continued to play a pivotal role in the horticultural world during his retirement at “The Kampong”.

PAPAYA ~ A Tropical Tree Melon ~ On Dr. Fairchild’s desk in his laboratory at “The Kampong” in Coconut Grove.

After Dr. Fairchild left his managerial role with the Department of Plant Introduction program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., he continued to author occasional botanically inclined papers, & National Geographic articles from his Coconut Grove laboratory. Few people shaped the way the United States eats as much as Dr. Fairchild, having introduced countless culinary staples, such as soybeans, mangos, dates, blueberries, talinum, broccoli and many more, which would be difficult to live without. Fairchild is among the champions we must thank for shaping that way America eats, having introduced countless vegetables often enjoyed, and neglected by children all across the states.

Upon stepping on the soil at “The Kampong”, the Fairchild’s footsteps can be traced by observing the beautiful trees still standing, that they collected, brought home to be planted, introduced, & shared. The word Kampong means “cluster of houses” or “village” in Malay. The Indonesian touches in the garden, adds a subtle contrast, against the backdrop of lovely flora found on the property. When visiting, one can observe the beautiful flowers of the royal poinciana / flamboyant (Delonix regia), from Madagascar. It is the official flowering tree of Miami-Dade County, and was planted by Marian Fairchild at “The Kampong”, in 1917. Marvel over countless mango varieties, as one would expect… palms, aroids, bamboo, ficus, & what seems like an infinite quantity of flowering trees. A mammoth tamarind tree around the vicinity of where Capt. Albion Simmons’ guava grove & factory once stood, prior to Dr. Fairchild purchasing the property. Miami’s first international export, guava jelly sold abroad to Europe, from a then unassuming property in “The Grove”, soon to become “The Kampong”. Wander to corners of the world through the flowers and fruits abound, welcome to “The Kampong”, stay for breakfast will ya?

“The Kampong” Home of Dr. David & Marian Fairchild in Coconut Grove, Florida.


Papaya plant growing in South Florida. Over 20 feet tall. Fruits weigh several pounds.

Alex D. Hawkes stayed at “The Kampong” with the Fairchilds while still in High School. He was able to enjoy more than an awe inspiring horticultural experience, since there was so much papaya to be enjoyed. Dr. Fairchild returned form the “The Isle of Singing Children”, the island of Siaoe / Siau Island in Indonesia, with a fascinating account of the island’s Papaya-leaf eaters, and its singing children. Fairchild sat with the Radja of Siaoe and his jolly wife who couldn’t “understand why people in other lands eat only their fruits” (Fairchild, 1943). Thank you Alex, for holding onto these recipes and publishing them in The Miami Herald, 18 years after your stay with David & Marian Fairchild  at “The Kampong”. What better way of honoring the late Fairchilds than enjoying some delicious, tropical Papaya? David Fairchild left us in 1954, Marian shortly after in 1962, they both lived their final days at their Coconut Grove oasis.

“The papaya is one of the tropics’ most extraordinary plants. It is not a tree despite its appearance, but rather a woody herbaceous plant, one of the fastest growing species known.” — Alex D. Hawkes

Were you aware that papaya can also be eaten as a vegetable, when green, and freshly picked? Also known as Paw Paw in Jamaica, & Fruta Bomba in Cuba, the “Confused Papaya Is Exotic Herb”, and the source of “papain”, the main ingredient in meat tenderizer. More papaya recipes will be shared on the blog, including accounts from Dr. Fairchild’s trip to “The Isle of Singing Children,” and the attention getting, boiled papaya leaf preparation, that David & Alex both advocated. For now let’s start with this simple, and delicious breakfast papaya.


“Papaya is a strictly acquired taste for many people, it seems, but I was lucky in my initial experiences with the fruit, for I at once very much liked Dr. Fairchild’s way of serving it when I stayed with him.” — Alex D. Hawkes
Ripe Papaya

David Fairchild’s Breakfast Papaya

1     medium ripe papaya

2     tablespoons sugar

2     Key (or Persian) limes, sliced

Peel papaya, Scoop out seeds, slice into rather thin, bite-size pieces. In a large shallow bowl, arrange papaya pieces, sprinkle sugar over them. and refrigerate overnight. Serve with lime slices for breakfast. Serves four.

Rainy day at “The Kampong”, thanks for visiting Sub Tropic Cookery.


Holiday Shopping in 1967? Cookbook South Florida Cookery (1964) by Alex D. Hawkes now at all bookstores!


The late Alex D. Hawkes wrote a magical first cookbook, ‘South Florida Cookery‘ (1964). ‘SFC’ was published and hand bound with enchanting cloth covers by Wake Brook House (WBH), local Coral Gables publisher at that time. Alex lived in Coconut Grove, a relatively colorful neighborhood next to Coral Gables. More info about WBH will be linked at the bottom of this post. ‘South Florida Cookery‘ was advertised by The Miami Herald for the 1967 holiday shopping season with the ad seen above. Alex’s cookbook is certainly that, plus much more. The promotional quote, “How To Use Florida’s Glamorous Foods” is both highly evocative and a sign of the times. It was Alex’s time to shine, and indeed he did, becoming one of Florida’s most esteemed cooks. Who else would be keen enough to publish Papaya recipes by non other than David Fairchild, that were enjoyed in his legendary Coconut Grove, retreat, “The Kampong”? Amazingly, the lush botanical oasis on Miami’s beautiful Biscayne Bay has been preserved, and is used for ongoing plant research, and special events. Dr. Fairchild’s recipes will be shared soon.

Alex D. Hawkes dedicates ‘South Florida Cookery’ (1964) “I would like to dedicate this book to the fond memory of Dr. & Mrs. David Fairchild”

Where have the culinary traditions that once thrived regionally, and across the whole of the United States of America (U.S.A.) gone? The age of convenience has stripped away both a way of living, and also any number of lovely staples that adorned proud dining tables across the country. The countless generations of the cooks in our families that painstakingly perfected and passed these recipes down, must be rolling in their graves! They didn’t have the facility that television and the internet offers, like current generations thoroughly enjoy. The concern at hand is not that we’ve stopped eating or have began to create non glamorous dishes. Among the concerns is that we’ve become increasingly reliant on chefs and restaurants to provide us with these delicious experiences. We look for convenient and simplistic satisfaction when cooking for ourselves either due to lack of experience in the kitchen, or not having enough time. There are other factors and perspectives to keep in mind as well, we do all have to eat everyday.

Like many of the great cookbook authors that have strived to influence our eating habits by introducing foreign cuisines to North America, Alex D. Hawkes ranks high in the list of people that influenced the culinary landscape in all of Florida, and the U.S.A.. From Florida’s northern panhandle to the southern tip of Key West, Alex served us with an avid sense of all things botanical that could be of interest to cooks in the kitchen. Alex found himself to be widely useful and well liked by his colleagues in the world of food writing at the time. This is noted through their various citations and acknowledgements made during his lifetime, and thereafter.

By presenting delicious recipes from his world travels, using a variety of rare fruits & vegetables that were then just beginning to appear in our markets, Alex helped all those raising their hand or eager to jump into the kitchen to experiment. His botanical background literally left no leaf unturned or nut untasted, which ads something fun and interesting to the cooking experience. Alex Hawkes accomplished something like what Alton Brown, current Food Network TV host that shares scientific and botanical tidbits in his cooking show, has successfully done. Alex exemplified a spirit bringing to mind a cross between Alton Brown, Anthony Bourdain, chef and world traveller, and Julia Child, beloved American author and TV host that trained professionally at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, a maven for any cookbook author interested in taking on the role of presenting foreign cuisines to Americans.

The authors mentioned above all served important roles introducing Americans to the cuisines of foreign lands. Many were American, others were foreign, but in the end they shared a common goal of promoting the positive attributes of the U.S.A. through cooking. A few prominent examples: Julia Child – French Cuisine, Diana Kennedy – Mexican, Joyce Chen & Barbara Tropp – Chinese, Felipe Rojas-Lombardi – Peruvian, Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz – Caribbean & Latin American. Elizabeth also compiled Alex’s final cookbook posthumously, Alex D. Hawkes – The Flavors of The Caribbean & Latin America: A personal collection of recipes (1977) Viking, New York. There are of course many more such authorities and examples that can be shared. The names mentioned above will help contrast between foreign cuisines and the heritage of the diverse fare that is still alive and well in the U.S.A..

Alex D. Hawkes Cookbooks

To hook Americans on how rich and diverse our own cuisine was, food writing heavyweights such as James Beard, Edna Lewis, Cecily Brownstone & Jane Nickerson were among those doing their part to help Americans understand, how rich and diverse our ancestors cooked, while promoting the eclectic regional cuisines of the U.S.A.. James Beard covered all of American regional cuisines like his colleague & dear friend Cecily Brownstone who wrote several highly syndicated columns for the Associated Press (AP), over the course of a staggering 39 years. Cecily Brownstone, the most widely published of syndicated food writers, loved to reference Alex’s botanical tidbits whenever she was writing brussels sprouts recipes. We cannot forget Edna Lewis who continued to enamor us with the delights of Southern Cooking. Jane Nickerson who became a Floridian by adoption in 1957 when she handed off the New York Times to Craig Claiborne.

Claiborne who had worked with Ann Seranne and Eileen Gaden prior to Gourmet and the New York Times, was an excellent succeeding writer to Nickerson. The fact that all these writers and characters knew about one another, only makes richer the broth, and helps put into perspective what Alex Hawkes was up to. Craig Claiborne would eventually cover Alex in The New York Times of the 1960s. That article will be shared in another post, stay tuned!

There is no country that devotes more time to watching foreign foods being prepared on television than the U.S.A.. There is no country that investigates and welcomes foreign cuisines to the extent that Americans do, but we leave it up to restaurants and chefs to do the cooking. How does this relate to Alex Hawkes and his ‘South Florida Cookery‘ (1964) cookbook? Simple, Alex was showing us that the cuisines from all over the world simply tasted better when prepared at home with a good recipe and quality produce, such as the bountiful heaps of fresh Florida fruits and vegetables that were abundant in markets of the 1950s & 1960s. Times haven’t change in Florida, and the farming networks although some say are diminishing, are at least for now providing quality produce all across the states. Historically, Florida “The Sunshine State” has proudly served winter cooks with splendid harvests, when most of the country is having snow pile on their yards.

Many Americans and Floridians are unaware that the great “Sunshine State”, was and still plays an integral part in the agricultural network of the U.S.A., not just in the winter, but all year long. Alex shared a variety of recipes, often times his newspaper food columns were seasonally themed which was fitting, since they were titled ‘Florida Cookery’ and ‘Sub-Tropical Cookery’. Alex also played another role for those that wanted to experience culture through cooking and explore the world via fruits and vegetables, by enjoying foreign fare that they cooked themselves at home.

Here’s some of the cuisines found in ‘South Florida Cookery‘ (1964) aside from Alex’s American interpretations, international delights & his personal culinary creations. Recipes for Haitian, Jamaican, Bahamian, Cuban, Spanish, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Nicaraguan, Argentine, Brazilian, Italian, Japanese, Nipponese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Javanese, Indian, French, Hawaiian, Singapore, Philippine, Burmese, Lebanese, Turkish and Syrian dishes are offered. Alex D. Hawkes was a character of sorts, a cross between Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain, befitting since he travelled the world as a botanist, pleasing his palate and returning back to the U.S.A., eager to share his discoveries with fellow Americans, as did Child.

Here are three full shots of the four known hand bound covers by Wake Brook House of ‘South Florida Cookery‘ (1964). The fourth cover is partially visible on the photo displaying the stack of some of Alex’s cookbooks. Catch you in “The Tropics”.

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Miami Herald – Sunday December 3, 1967
South Florida Cookery (1964)
How To Use Florida’s Glamorous Foods
The Ideal Gift
A Handmade Book published by WAKE-BROOK HOUSE (Coral Gables)
At All Bookstores $5

A list of Alex D. Hawkes’ published works can be found via this link. – More books!

For more information about Wake Brooke House visit David Burkam’s website on the subject. Click this link.