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HEART OF TRADITION: A look into harvesting swamp cabbage for Labelle’s famous festival

A weekend of culinary delights and entertainment, rooted in the harvest and celebration of the cabbage palm
Posted at 9:32 PM, Feb 23, 2024

LABELLE, Fla. — In the heart of LaBelle, it’s all about the heart of the cabbage palm this weekend. The 58th annual Swamp Cabbage Festival honors the cabbage palm, Florida's state tree, and its pivotal role in local culture and cuisine, particularly its heart which is celebrated as swamp cabbage.

As the festival preparations were underway, Lucas and Dwayne Pratt, residents of LaBelle, have been busy harvesting the essential ingredient for their signature festival dish, swamp cabbage fritters. The Pratts guided me through the woods, demonstrating the process of extracting the edible heart from the cabbage palm.

The sound of chainsaws filled the air as the Pratts worked to bring down the palms. Then, they used a cleaver to remove layers to get down to the middle. Lucas Pratt explained, "This is the non-edible part which we call the bitter - it's bitter tasting cabbage. So, what I'm going to do is cut it off so we can get into the edible part which is the heart."

The Pratt family has been taking part in the festival for decades, with a tradition that spans generations. "I'm 34 years old now and I've been coming out here since I was twelve with my grandfather, my dad, and my brother," Lucas shared, highlighting the deep-rooted family involvement. Dwayne Pratt added, "We've been doing it for a long time. We want to keep carrying on the tradition."

Once they got what they needed in the woods, we went back to the Pratt’s business in LaBelle where they prepare the fritter mix. It’s cooked down with white bacon, then mixed with eggs, flour and beer before frying. Dwayne Pratt proudly presented finished mix saying, “A lot of work goes into this. This is the final product and this is how it's done."

The Swamp Cabbage Festival is not just about celebrating a local delicacy; it's a vital event for LaBelle, bringing income and recognition to the community. Dwayne Pratt emphasized, "This festival has brought so much income to the community," with Lucas Pratt adding, "And it lets people see how great of a city LaBelle is."

Running from Saturday through Sunday, the festival promises a rich variety of food, vendors, and entertainment, showcasing significance of the cabbage palm in Florida's cultural heritage.