Hey you, Gopher Turtle — Put down your weapon!

The gophers in the Florida Panhandle can rest easy. (menoutdoors.com)

The gophers in the Florida Panhandle can rest easy. (menoutdoors.com)

Busted. Yesterday I learned one of my most popular blog posts might be wrong. When I relayed a historical account of gopher gumbo I jumped to the conclusion that a “gopher” is a small furry rodent.

Well, you furry squirrel cousins can put down your weapons. According to local writers, a book title“gopher” in the Florida Panhandle is a tortoise. When my writing group was talking about Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of a Revolution, Kathleen DuVal’s new book which describes early days of Pensacola, one writer told of an old market on Intendencia and Palafox that sold turtles called gophers by the locals.

Blog backfire. Was the gopher gumbo I had written about made with turtle meat? My source Adelia Rosasco Soule’s Panhandle Memories is memoir, probably never intended to be used as historical reference. Her description of gopher gumbo is a little vague. . . she never says tortoise or turtle, only tells of boys killing and preparing gopher meat to sell at a grocery store at Intendenica and Palafox. Whoops.

Gopher Tortoise. Source Wikipedia

Gopher Tortoise. Source Wikipedia

But in my defense, my grandmother, who grew up 90 miles from Pensacola in Kreole, Mississippi, made Turtle Egg Soup and never called it gopher egg soup.

As for gopher tortoises, there’s no need to fear any grandmothers looking for them and their eggs again. They are protected in Florida. And so are their crowded burrow homes where they hang out with 359 of their friends.

Gopher protectedI wonder when gopher tortoises are digging down there if they ever bump into those pocket gophers — the chestnut-colored, beady-eyed rodents that live in the deep sands along the coast and the Blackwater River where Adelia Rosasco Soule, who wrote of gopher gumbo, grew up.

So what’s in gopher gumbo – rodent or turtle? A little historical clarity is needed, but my bet is on the tortoise.

I just hope when people read my memoir The Gumbo Diaries: Mississippi & Beyond they don’t think the Mustangs my sons and their friends rebuilt over the summer were horses.

Mustang Summers: Will future generations think this

Mustang Summers: Will future generations think this “Mustang” is a horse just as I was sure that a “gopher” was, indeed, a furry rodent that dug holes and was suitable for gumbo.


About thegumbodiaries

On the search for the perfect gumbo!
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5 Responses to Hey you, Gopher Turtle — Put down your weapon!

  1. But you are right — why eat either with so much seafood available!


  2. Scott says:

    I couldn’t imagine eating either either!

    My dad had gopher tortoises in our backyard most of my life–until they eventually all crawled away or died. He usually referred to them as “gophers”–which was good because otherwise he’d call them “turtles”!

    (We also had box turtles in the backyard most of the time too–which added to the confusion!)


    • Thanks for confirming that they really are tortoises. Rosasco-Soule also writes that “gopher” gumbo was popular in Mobile. I like the tip that he distinguished between tortoises and turtles too. Thanks for reading!


  3. Pingback: Scratch a Cook for a Gumbo Recipe – Sometimes | The Gumbo Diaries

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