Visitors to our Natural North Florida Big Bend often eye quizzically the hushpuppies served alongside their fish or shellfish dinners at local eateries. Places famous for their local seafood (Poseys or Shell Point in Panacea, Deal’s or Pouncey’s in Perry, Roy‘s and Fiddler’s in Steinhatchee, The Lighthouse in Fanning Springs, Bett’s in Chiefland and any number of Cedar Key or Inglis restaurants) all serve hushpuppies, and A FEW OF THEM SERVE THEM WITH GUAVA JELLY!
I once tried to estimate the number of times my friend and server at Fiddler’s, Doris Ross, has had to explain guavas and why there’s a cup of the tasty jelly aside the fried corn nuggets. It was a futile task, and Doris simply rolled her eyes!
Regarding guavas, they’re a tropical fruit. Some are a staple of the Cuban diet, candied in cane sugar and eaten with cream cheese and crispy Cuban crackers. Served with a sweet cafe con leche, they’re hard to beat. But it’s the smaller Catley guava that makes the pure, golden-toned jelly at only a few factories. In my opinion, Palmalito is the best brand and it’s available in many markets, including Publix. And it’s a Florida product, made in Bradenton.
As for hushpuppies, basic hushpuppies are just that—basic. Add water or milk and an egg to about two cups of self-rising cornmeal and stir, being careful to not get the mixture too moist. Hushpuppies that start out “wet” don’t get cooked through. Some folks, mainly northerners or North Carolinians, add sugar to their hushpuppy batter—a process that’s the source of many a dinnertime confrontation. Not an accomplished chef or not good with measuring? All the mixing and measuring can be avoided by using one of the many readily available hushpuppy mixes from just about any grocery store in the south. The final step, and one to be made just before the fish get cooked, is to fry the “pups” in hot 375-degree canola or peanut oil. Temperature is critical, so I recommend a digital thermometer—it’s handy and more accurate than guessing (or spitting into the grease to see if it pops)! Cook your pups until they’re brown, turning once, and then drain them on paper towels. If you have fish to cook, the hushpuppies will hold in a slow, 250-degree, oven while you finish frying the main course.
The next time you’re served guava jelly with your dinner at a Big Bend restaurant, give it a try. The tropical flavor is perfect when combined with the savory taste of the “pups”. And when it comes to the answer as to why we eat guava jelly with our hushpuppies, there’s no clear answer. Perhaps it’s the same answer to the question, “Why do mullet jump”!