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 “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 My source Adelia Rosasco Soule’s Panhandle Memories is memoir, probably never intended to be used as historical reference.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.
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.
I 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.