What and where is the First Coast

I receive much of my information from living on the First Coast, so what and where exactly is the first coast?

Florida’s First Coast is a region of the U.S. located on the Atlantic coast of North Florida. The First Coast refers to the same general area as the region of Northeast Florida. It comprises the five counties surrounding Jacksonville: Duval, Baker, Clay, Nassau, and St. Johns, largely corresponding to the Jacksonville metropolitan area, and depending who you ask includes nearby areas Putnam and Flagler counties in Florida and Camden County in Georgia. As its name suggests, the First Coast was the first area of Florida colonized by Europeans. The name originated in a marketing campaign in the 1980’s.

The name refers both to the area’s status as the first coast that many visitors reach when entering Florida, as well as to the region’s history as the first place in the continental United States to see European contact and settlement. Juan Ponce de León may have landed in this region during his first expedition in 1513, and the early French colony of Fort Caroline was founded in present-day Jacksonville in 1564. Significantly, the First Coast includes St. Augustine, the oldest continuously inhabited European-established city in the continental U.S., founded by the Spanish in 1565.

The First Coast marketing campaign and identity has been very popular with its spread to other nearby areas, being found as far south as Flagler Beach in Flagler County, Palatka in Putnam County, and as far north as St. Mary’s, Georgia.

Culinary Fun Fact: Should you should add oil to your cooking water to keep the pasta from sticking together as it cooks.

Adding salt to your pasta cooking water seasons the pasta from the inside out, but you can skip the oil. It will only coat the pasta when you drain it, and that prevents the sauce from adhering.

The best way to keep pasta from sticking is to use a large amount of water. Use 4 quarts of water to 1 pound of pasta. This means you should be cooking pasta in a 6- or 8-quart stockpot or Dutch oven. Stirring the pasta for a minute or two after you add it to the boiling water will also help keep it from sticking.

Culinary Fun Fact: The best way to tell if pasta is fully cooked is to throw it against the wall to see if it sticks.

Throwing the cooked pasta at the wall won’t tell you anything about how done it is, but it will make a mess. Instead, take a piece of pasta out of the pot and taste it. Testing the pasta a few minutes ahead of the cooking time prescribed on the box is the most accurate way to determine the doneness as the boxes invariably instruct you to cook it until it’s overdone and mushy, and definitely not al dente, which is an Italian term meaning “to the tooth.”

Culinary Fun Fact: True or False you should eat oysters only in months whose names contain the letter R.

The “R” rule may have been true 30 or 40 years ago, but thanks to advances in aquaculture it has fallen by the wayside. It used to be fishermen dug for oysters only in the colder “R” months (September through April) to avoid the spawning season.

Warm waters (above 60 degrees) encourage spawning, rendering oysters bland, soft-textured, and small. Once the spawning season is complete, oysters are generally plumper and better-tasting, thus commanding a higher price tag.

Today’s oysters are more likely to be farmed than found, with farmers having more control over the conditions in which they are grown, harvested, and stored. This means that oyster cultivators can plant oysters in cold waters, thereby staggering spawning and keeping their product available year-round. So forget the “R” rule—any time is fine for eating oysters.

Knife DNA 101

The Cutting Edge the sharpened, honed edge of the blade. It should be razor sharp. Chef’s knife blades come in varying degrees of curvature, designed for various tasks, such as cutting, slicing, filleting, butchery.

The Back, or Spine, is the long side opposite the sharp blade. This is where you hold your non–knife hand when rocking the knife back and forth for rapid mincing. It can also be used as a makeshift bench scraper for moving pieces of food around on your cutting board. Never use the knife cutting edge for this.

The Tip is the sharp point at the end of the blade. It’s used for precision work.

The Heel is at the bottom of the blade. In Western-style knives, the metal thickens significantly at the heel. This is to make it easier to grip.

The Bolster is the part of the blade that meets the handle. It is thick and heavy, providing a good balancing point for the blade and the handle. The center of mass should be somewhere near the bolster, so that you can rock the knife back and forth with minimal effort.

The Tang is the extension of the blade that runs through the handle. It provides balance as well as sturdiness.

The Handle is where your hand rests if using the handle grip, or where your three smaller fingers rest if using the blade grip. Handles can be made of wood, polycarbonate, metal, or various exotic materials.

The Butt is the fattened section at the very bottom of the handle.

 

Simple Rhubarb Jam

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2 pounds rhubarb
3 cups granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lemon or of ½ orange and ½ lemon

Wash, trim and dice the rhubarb. You will have about 8 cups.

In a large pot combine the rhubarb, sugar, and citrus juice and toss to mix. Bring the rhubarb mixture to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let sit for 1 to 2 hours.

Set a stockpot on the stove and fill with enough water to cover the jars by 1 to 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Sterilize the jars in the water bath.

For a jam with some texture, set a colander over a bowl and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the rhubarb to the colander.  Bring the juices to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until thickened.  Add the rhubarb back to the pot, along with any juices that have collected in the bowl under the colander. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, and cook about 5 minutes longer.

For the smoother jam, cook the fruit with the juices over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.

Bring the water bath back to a boil. Simmer the lids in a saucepan of hot water. Ladle the jam into the jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Wipe the rims clean and set the lids on the mouths of the jars. Twist on the rings.

Using a jar lifter, gently lower the jars into the pots. When the water returns to a boil, decrease the heat to an active simmer, and process the jars for 10 minutes.

Transfer the jars from the pot and let sit for at least 6 hours, until cool enough to handle. Check to be sure the jars have sealed.  Store the sealed jam for 6 months to 2 years. Once open, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.