I have recently had two, we’ll call them “Old Florida” experiences, I’d like to share. First, you need to know what the Calamondin stage used to be. Introduced by David Fairchild (for whom the very fabulous Fairchild Gardens near Coconut Grove is named) early in the 1900’s, Calamondins became popular as backyard trees. As they are labor intensive, Calamondin cake was made only for special occasions. You didn’t just get one for mowing the lawn. It was more like graduation from High School or your birthday kind of thing.
Then came the Caribbean fruit fly and the fact that Florida women, as many American women did, went to work and didn’t have time for labor intensive home made goodies. So, trees died off. Bakers punched a clock. Calamondin cake has been all but gone from Florida life probably since the 60’s. Popularity seems to have peaked somewhere around the ’40’s and ’50’s. I’ve seen some St. Pete newspaper listings from the ’40’s for “Calamondin Sips” which were, as best I can determine, gatherings that I am assuming featured Calamondin cake and coffee. I’d be grateful for any Floridians that could elaborate on that. I have been noticing that native Floridians under the age of 40 usually aren’t familiar with Calamondins, over the age of 55 they get all misty eyed.
So, I am blessed with a wonderful friend, Louise, who was born and raised here in Fort Myers. She is in her 60’s and is in a large way contributory to my running a Calamondin company rather than just keeping it as a hobby on steroids. She has coined the term for true Calamondin devotees to be called “Calamondonians”. She has spoken about her Mother’s Calamondin cake from her childhood since I’ve known her. She gets this dreamy part reverie part ecstasy far away look that helped inspire my moving forward with a business. We were discussing it a few days ago and as she recalled a childhood memory of her Mom’s cake, she was getting that dreamy look again. When she finished with her story, “look” still fixed on her face, I asked, “So the recipe is gone? No one in the family has it?” And she snapped out of it and turned to me and said, “Well why would you want it? Yours is better.”
Later in the week, a lovely, local chef/foodie came by the kitchen for a cake sample after hearing about us. She and her husband were born on the east coast of Florida and are in that Grandma/Mom used to make us Calamondin cake age group. In this case, her husband’s Grandmother used to make the cake. She was excited to try some of ours as she hadn’t had the flavor since childhood. She shared with me her husband’s parting words as she left the house: ‘I hope she hasn’t ruined it.” I’m not sure if he meant the whole Calamondin cake allure, or specifically his childhood memory of it. Rose is a food critic, and I’ll let her tell you about her response another time, but it was her husband’s response that I was fixated on. He’s the one with Grandma’s cake memory pinned to his tastebuds. We know not everyone is going to love our product. That’s cool. It’s a new, funky flavor for most epicures. But the crowd with the childhood memories? The ones that get that look? I am fixated on their approval. When you can give someone back a fond childhood experience from a fond childhood memory, you’ve accomplished something gratifying. His response? All I heard back was, “He’s going to be your best customer.
” Are there Calamondonians who remember their Mother’s and Grandmother’s cakes? We love to give samples. Please come by and tell us how we did. I’d be grateful if anyone one wanted to share any recipes or stories. We love to play. Any old photos of calamondins or calamondin cake? I would be happy to swap for cake! We want to be the Keepers of the Calamondin Lore.