By Hardy Jackson
Doing some research, I came across an article in the Aug. 5, 1950 edition of the Mobile Register that told of how folks down there “Eat Gophers, Claim They’re Delicious.”
Gophers. Those big tortoises that burrow deep into the sandy soil of South Alabama.
It seemed that back then gophers were fast becoming all the rage in the Port City. Demand was so great that one enterprising citizen was keeping a “backyard pen well stocked in the turtle-like creatures” and “several small eating places even stir up a batch of ‘gopher stew’ to put on the menu.” (Mobile’s “Renaissance Man,” Eugene Walter, included gopher gumbo in his much-admired book on Southern cooking.)
A regular gopher industry was blossoming as boys and girls out “in the country” caught them, brought them in, and sold them to local “distributors.”
Now a lot can be said for gopher raising. They are cheap and easy to care for. They eat grass mostly and they love watermelon rinds. They aren’t aggressive and of course, they “taste like chicken.”
“In fact,” the article reported, “if you ate some while blindfolded you wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference.”
Well, from my experience, yes you would.
I was just a lad when I caught the tortoise that became my first and only culinary experience with gopher.
I brought it up to the house where Mr. Pugh was doing some yard work for Daddy. The conversation, as I recall, went something like this.
Mr. Pugh: “What’cha gonna do with it?”
Me: “I dunno.”
Mr. Pugh: “Can I have it?”
Me: “What’cha gonna do with it?”
Mr. Pugh: “Eat it.”
Then he proceeded to tell me how gopher had five different kinds of meat in it. Chicken, of course. Fish. Pork. Beef. And, he paused for effect, mule.
Then he promised to take it home, get his wife to cook it, and bring some back the next day for me to sample.
And he did. Brought me a piece about the size of a silver dollar, deep-fried and crisp. I ate it.
Musta been the mule.
So I am not surprised that despite all the hype the Register gave to gopher stew, gopher gumbo, gopher and dumplings, and southern fried gopher smothered in gravy, gopher eating never caught on.
There was some discussion of raising gophers for their eggs, but they don’t lay many and when a local cook reportedly “tried frying one for breakfast, it blew up in the pan and stuck to the ceiling.”
That put an end to that.
So, if you get the urge for some gopher, chances are your local grocery won’t carry it. But if it does, it is probably in the frozen food section marked “Mule.”