A friend lent me a copy of Panhandle Memories, Adela Rosasco-Soule’s memoir of growing up in the early 1900s in the wilds of the Florida Panhandle. Inside the book, my friend left her presentation notes to help me with research on poet laureates of northwest Florida. As I removed the notes, the book fell open to page 48, “Gopher gumbo and snapper throats.” I was hooked.
Rosasco-Soule writes “In the old days in Pensacola, meat was kinda scarce. . . we had lots of good fish and, in winter, of course oysters. We also had gophers. People had gopher gumbo every Friday . . . Several grocery stores sold gophers; had boys to kill and prepare the meat . . . Mobilians ate gopher gumbo just like us in Pensacola; in New Orleans, too.”
I grew up in this region and have never seen a gopher around here. I’ve seen plenty of squirrels, but never a real gopher, which is a ground squirrel. In the early 1900s the Florida Panhandle was a bustling lumber, sawmill and shipping area – a boomtown. If everyone was eating gopher gumbo on Fridays, no wonder I’ve never seen one. The gophers are long gone – either they wised up and left town ( avoiding Mobile and New Orleans) or they ended up in gumbo.