Notes from the Panhandle: rain, gumbo, tin can campers.

IMG_1436We are back in the rainy pattern, which seems to be widespread across the south this fall during our pilgrimage to here. Sheets of heavy rain, blown sideways by the wind, are pretty astounding when experienced while crossing the five-mile bridge that connects the mainland to the barrier island where St. George State Park is located. We ventured out because it was a good day to do the laundry in town. All went well in spite of the temporary power outage that occurred half way into the drying cycle. Life on the road still calls for clean, dry clothes, and often, extra amounts of patience.


Peter made gumbo over the rainy weekend and it tasted even more wonderful than it looks here!

Happy to be home in our Airstream, we feasted on Peter’s inaugural recipe of seafood gumbo. It was perfectly seasoned with the Cajun spices and the roux he picked up back in Louisiana after talking with the chef he met at the Acadia Cultural Center. He made this batch with small Gulf shrimp from the amazing 13 Mile Fish Market in Apalachicola and paired them with tiny scallops. Wow. Peter’s famous grilled toast featured thick sliced sourdough bread from the local bakery, Wake and Bake. What a way to warm up an inside day.

Taking a break from reading and during a respite in the rain, I walked down to the beach where the surf was higher than we have seen and the red “hazard” flags were flying for understandable reasons. The beach was hauntingly beautiful. The sand held the evidence of the rain and wind in the countless swirls and eddies left behind like fingerprints in its soft form. The fragments of so many shells lay in broken heaps along side the dunes. Mounds of seaweed, glistening, and looking like abandoned pieces of strings, created long waves of red-brown color on what was basically a monochromatic scene where the water and the sky and the clouds melted together in a palette of grey toward no discernable horizon.

On Saturday, we drove up to Tallahassee, about 65 miles to the north, to the Museum of Florida History. It had been closed for renovations when we were here in February so we were looking forward to seeing the finished product. It is well worth the trip. The Museum does a great job of highlighting the rich history of the place from Paleolithic times to the present.

There is a fascinating display about the people who lived on the eastern coast between Orlando and Cape Canaveral about 8,000 years ago. They buried their dead underwater in remarkably elaborate rituals and some of the textiles and even human DNA, have been retrieved from the sites, preserved by the thousands of years of silt that built up as the water tables rose.


From the Museum of Florida History, we learned where the RV thing started – a converted Model T frame and a wooden “truck” that brought the first “gypsies” to Florida in the 1930s. Wally Byam was on to something with his first Airstream travel trailer…

We also learned that the Hopewell Mound Culture, from Ohio, (we visited there in August) had established trade and contact with these ancient people, reminding us once again that there was trade and cultural exchange that pre-dated our modern period.

And just as profound as that display was, the one about the Tin Can Campers, was sheer delight. The Tin Can Campers were the first RVs, built around 1930s, on the chassis of Model T. They had a set-up that created a bed, a food prep area, washbasin, and shelves for food and storage. These first RVs allowed people to travel pretty inexpensively to Florida where they were known to mostly eat their food out of tin cans (hence the name they were given) because it was so portable and convenient. As the trailer and RV trend caught on (and this is about the time the founder of Airstream, Wally Byam built his first trailer) Florida began the system of state parks and campgrounds that have become our home on the road.

There is a lot to learn, friends, so we’re going to keep moving…

Peter and Liz are continuing their pilgrimage to here, eating gumbo and visiting local laundromats, as they travel the U.S. in their Airstream.



2 thoughts on “Notes from the Panhandle: rain, gumbo, tin can campers.

  1. Fantastic! Maybe you could start a business: “Peter’s Famous Grilled Sourdough Toast”. Sell it from the side of the highway… Wish we were there! Did you hear about the closing of the crab season in SF because of the poisonous algae bloom?


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