We’re spending Easter in the Everglades, as we have for the past four years, but alligator won’t be on the menu. Nor will any egrets, once referred to as “swamp chicken” by local Floridians, be served up. In earlier times these were traditional foods here at the bottom of the Everglades, where jobs were scarce, feeding a family was tough and refrigeration nonexistent.

These days, times are better and electricity available, but the closest grocery store is still a trip across the causeway from this tiny shell-mound island, and to really stock up, Naples, the nearest city, is a 40-minute drive north. The gardening season is winding down here, as it’s already getting into the high 80s and there were three record-breaking 92-degree days last week — too hot for greens or tomatoes for salads. Because of these factors, we tend to rely on vegetables that keep well, such as carrots, potatoes, onions and cabbage, and on canned goods like corn and beans. The traditional ham will probably be featured on the Easter menu, but the sides will have a Southern influence, using the aforementioned ingredients.

What denotes a Southern influence? I’m not exactly sure, but I tend to think that many recipes served here have more sugar or fat in them than their Northern counterparts. I know we use a lot more mayonnaise here in the fish camp–cum-marina where we spend part of the winter. That’s probably because we eat a lot of fish and with it coleslaw. With its tangy mayo–sour cream dressing, this is the perfect accompaniment to crispy, pan-sauteed fillets. I also slather fillets with a mixture of mayonnaise and lime juice, top them with fresh bread crumbs, drizzle them with a bit of melted butter, then bake them until browned on top.

Mayo is also the main ingredient in the accompanying homemade tartar sauce, mixed with sour cream again, and some of our homemade Northern garden relish and horseradish folded in. It’s also part of our Maryland-style hot crab dip, which is a perfect appetizer for Easter or any meal when served with warm baguette slices and fresh veggies for dipping. We use blue crab, which we trap in the bay, using as bait the heads and leftovers after filleting our other fish. The crabs are steamed in vinegar and water, with copious amounts of Old Bay Seasoning sprinkled in, and Old Bay also is added to the dip. In fact, Old Bay also makes its way into the cornflour/regular flour I use to bread fillets for frying, so it, too, becomes a more Southern addition to the menu. For Northern crab dip, Maine crab is fine.

Hot Crab Dip

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
12 tsp. ground mustard
1 pound crabmeat
14cup shredded Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 350°. Mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, Old Bay Seasoning and ground mustard in medium bowl until well blended. Add crabmeat and toss gently. Spread in shallow 112-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with Cheddar cheese and additional Old Bay Seasoning, if desired. Bake 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve with baguette slices and fresh vegetables.

One of the most popular Southern side dishes is sweet corn pudding, which goes as well with ham as it does with fish. There are a million versions of it, but this one is my favorite:

Southern Corn Pudding

12 cup butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup sour cream
1 812 oz. box cornbread mix
1 can creamed corn
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
Preheat oven to 350°. Butter a 112-quart casserole dish. In a large bowl combine all ingredients. Pour into casserole and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.