Couple cooks up a ‘Florida Bounty’.
Culinary CoupleEric and Sandra Jacobs Cook Up A ‘Florida Bounty’ with New Cookbook

By Rosanne Dunkelberger with Photography by Nikki Ritcher

While it may be possible in today’s global economy to eat caviar from Russia or Chilean grapes in the dead of winter, oftentimes the very best food is what you can find in season and in abundance wherever you live.

One young Florida couple with Tallahassee ties – he’s a 33-year-old Florida State University grad who grew up near Tampa, she’s a 30-year-old native – have created “Florida Bounty,” a cookbook subtitled “A Celebration of Florida Cuisine and Culture.”{mosimage}

With a shared affinity for cooking and food, Eric and Sandra Jacobs have created or adapted recipes to showcase ingredients that are readily available in the Sunshine State – seafood, pecans, citrus, vegetables and more.

The more than 75 recipes are sorted into suggested menus that highlight different areas of the state, such as “Miami High Life” (blue crab bisque and stone crab claws), “The Tampa Special” (Mojo Mohitos and Tampa-style Cuban sandwiches) and the “Key West Fiesta” (Florida lobster and blue crab salad in avocado and Key West pork tenderloin).

Tallahassee gets the nod with “A Capitol Brunch,” with a focus on traditional breakfast foods as well as a couple of lunch-based alternatives. The dessert item – a blackberry tart – was inspired by Sandra Jacobs’ childhood memories of picking wild blackberries with her sister from a patch near their Killearn Acres home.

Eric Jacobs said he has always enjoyed a variety of foods, grew up cooking and worked his way through school in a variety of restaurant jobs, including a stint at Chez Pierre. His wife is more of a gourmet-come-lately, admitting to being a “picky eater” in her childhood who went through an eating-only-macaroni-and-cheese phase and a short-lived stint as a vegetarian.

That all changed when Sandra spent her sophomore year in college in FSU’s Florence program and fell in love with the cuisine. “I wanted to try anything, it was so delicious and beautiful,” she said.

After returning from her year abroad, Sandra would fall in love again – this time with Eric. After attending FSU, the pair attended graduate school together at the University of South Florida, earning his-and-hers MBAs.

They cooked – and conceived of the cookbook – during their courtship and found compatibility in the kitchen. “He does the entrees and sauces and things,” Sandra said. “I’m a baker.”

At first, she said, Eric wanted to encourage cooks to “feel” the recipe and improvise with ingredients. But with a baker’s precision for measurement, Sandra made him quantify and refine his creations.

“It’s not a good cookbook unless every recipe that’s in there, you can make it and it comes out the same – and good – every time, if you follow the instructions,” she said.

There were several rounds of edits, during which the pair learned the art of recipe writing. “You can’t say a pinch if it really isn’t a pinch. A pinch is a legitimate measurement,” Sandra said. They also discovered it won’t do to say to salt something “to taste” if it has raw ingredients such as eggs, because you shouldn’t be tasting uncooked foods.

The book took several years to get published. During that time, Eric and Sandra got married and landed jobs in Tampa (him at Eckerd Corp., her at Citicorp) before quitting to join the Peace Corps. The Jacobses made final edits to “Florida Bounty” from Ukraine, where they have been working together for the past year. They returned stateside for two weeks this past spring to attend a wedding, visit a new nephew, reconnect with friends and promote their new book.

The couple works there as consultants to non-governmental organizations – what we think of as nonprofit organizations in the U.S. – in the city of Vinnytsia. It’s about three hours southwest of Kiev (which the locals spell Kyiv and pronounce “Keev”) in an oblast (similar to a U.S. state) that’s known as the breadbasket of Ukraine.

“It’s really a large city,” Eric said. “Kind of like living in Iowa City or somewhere in Wisconsin.”

In keeping with their eat-what’s-available philosophy, the Jacobses have embraced the local foodstuffs. 

“Mostly it’s fresh, whole food,” Eric said. “There’s not a lot of prepared food and not a lot of preservatives. You tend to eat what’s in season. This summer there will be a lot of berries, a lot of greens, green vegetables, fresh potatoes . . . Tomatoes come in by the truckloads in August and September, and then everybody cans whatever’s left.”{mosimage}

And then there are beets. Lots of beets.

“Once a week we make a pot of borscht,” Sandra said. “It’s healthy and . . .”

“It uses all the available ingredients,” Eric continued. Those who might cast a jaundiced eye at a beet might just like the fresh Ukrainian version. “They’re sweeter and have a better texture when they’re not out of a can,” he said.

“And they dye your hands,” Sandra finished. “We’ve seen beets the size of our heads.”

Care packages from home include an eclectic array of foodstuffs not available in Ukraine, including such things as Kraft macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, hot sauce and cream of tartar.

“We miss a lot of the things we have (in Florida), but we make modifications,” Eric said. “Instead of crab quiche, it’s wild mushroom quiche.”

Although it just hit the bookstores, “Florida Bounty” is only the first of the couple’s cookbooks. They also rewrote the Ukrainian cookbook that is given to Peace Corps volunteers.

“Most Peace Corps countries have a cookbook, and usually the volunteers will contribute recipes,” Eric said. The books often contain the local cuisine, along with adaptations to make international dishes such as Mexican or Italian food using whatever is available locally.

The Jacobses didn’t have time to cook much on their short visit home, although they did make a traditional salad for
Eric’s father called vinaigrette that combines beets, carrots, potatoes, pickles, peas and onions.

“It’s sort of a salad version of borscht,” according to Eric.

The Jacobses aren’t sure where they’ll settle or what they’ll be doing once their two-year Peace Corps commitment is completed in March 2007 – although many of their friends and relatives throughout Florida are lobbying for the pair to enter the restaurant business.

“The first year, we focused on getting the book published and living in the Ukraine and learning the language,” Sandra said. “And then the second year is when we decide what to do when we grow up.”

Sandra and Eric are chronicling their Ukrainian adventure in a blog that can be found at http://jacobspeacecorps.blogspot.com/.

“Florida Bounty” costs $8.95 and is available in local and online bookstores. 

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