Kimberly Voss, professor of journalism at the University of Central Florida and author of The Food Section: Newspaper Women and the Culinary Community, credits Nickerson with the basics of modern food journalism. “She’s done a lot of reporting, which shouldn’t be shocking but it is,” she told me, “because a lot of food editors just took corporate revenue. food and simply put them in the newspapers. Nickerson searched for recipes on airplanes and in dining cars on railroads and in restaurants and homes. She interviewed James Beard in his apartment. She was exploring new foods, technologies and sciences.
In 1947, Nickerson announced an innovation in the world of burgers: the cheeseburger. “At first, the combination of beef with cheese and tomatoes, which are sometimes used, can seem weird,” she wrote in The Times. “If you think about it a bit, you will understand that the combination is gastronomically healthy. Two years later, she introduced Times readers to the concept of “culinary writers” in an article about a press lunch aboard the liner Ile de France. She brought the Green Goddess Dressing to The Times and the Diane Steak. “These recipes, these stories, Craig Claiborne – they don’t exist without Jane Nickerson,” Voss said.
After Nickerson resigned from The Times to move to Florida with his family, Claiborne was named his replacement. She didn’t restart her journalism career until 1973, when she was appointed editor-in-chief of The Ledger in Lakeland, east of Tampa. (The newspaper was then owned by The Times.) That year, she also published “Jane Nickerson’s Florida Cookbook.” The book is still in print and offers a fascinating insight into his interests and reporting style. “It’s not so much a Florida cookbook as it is Nickerson’s book,” said Voss. “His name came first.” There are recipes from restaurants and friends, government employees and members of the Seminole tribe. Nickerson traces the roots of his chopped eggplant salad to a Greek community in Tarpon Springs and attributes his marinated shrimp recipe to Mary Call Collins, the wife of a former Florida governor. It’s an idiosyncratic collection. His recipe for the orange coconut layer cake was the one that won second prize in the All-Florida Orange Dessert competition in 1960.
I especially like his recipe for Florida Lime Pie, which like its more famous cousin, Lime Pie, relies on sweetened condensed milk that was a boon to Florida cooks in the days before refrigeration. It’s rich, creamy and tangy, baked in pie crust rather than a graham cracker and topped with whipped cream. To me it tastes like the Florida sun.
Nickerson died in 2000, about a month after Claiborne. His obituary appeared on the front page of The Times. Nickerson’s was on page 25 of Section C. “His legacy is in his recipes,” Voss told me. “You just have to look for them.”