What’s This, Now?

WPA map of Florida
The Guide to the Southernmost State, circa 1939

What’s this, now?

In the 1930s the Works Progress Administration paid writers to travel and create driving tours of each state. The Federal Writers Project hired unemployed writers. To narrow the field almost imperceptibly, the program only considered at writers who were poor and had no prospects.

Florida chose Zora Neale Hurston and Stetson Kennedy.

They crisscrossed the state separately – Jim Crow would not allow black Zora to travel with white Stetson – carving the routes they would immortalize in the Guide to the Southernmost State.

Over seventy years later, I decided I wanted to go, too. I broke out my shiny red Florida Gazeteer and started trying to recreate the twenty-two tours, studying towns and researching old route numbers. In many cases, I could only recreate the Depression-era routes by jumping from city to city, sort of a geographic connect-the-dots.

Roads are living things, and for one to assume that she can look for a road in the same place someone else put it down almost 80 years ago, well, sir, you would be foolish to think that road would stay right where you left it. Especially in Florida, a land kept eternally young and youthful by its constant state of flux and change. The roads, it seem, breathe and grow and twist and turn and pulse with the fervor of Florida in much the same way her people and her land does. They are malleable. There isn’t much in Florida that won’t bend and stretch – and sometimes break. Just as often, though, it yields instead, bending until it simply can no longer, and then it stretches and bends back and we are the ones who must yield or break.

In September I climbed into a camper van with my better half, Barry, and my other better half, Calypso. We spent the month recreating those original tours, guided by a dog-eared, broken-spined 1950s-era version of the Guide, a tattered oversize Florida Gazetteer, and (on Barry’s part) on endless supply of patience.

We logged almost 5,000 miles in that van that became our home on my quest for Florida. I hoped to see the state through Stetson and Zora’s eyes. I looked for what they saw. I searched for scraps of Florida abandoned along her backroads.

Out of those miles grew the tours you will read here: the ultimate Florida road trip.

These tours share much with the Guide to the Southernmost State, but they differ, too. I was following Stetson and Zora, yes, seeking their voices in the burble of every spring and searching for visions of them in every blazing hot pink and amber sunset, but I was also recreating, one more time, Florida’s story – and mine.

This tour is the best thing I have ever done.

As I work my way through a series of edits to these tours, so graciously provided my by awesome thesis committee at the Florida Studies Program at USF–St. Petersburg, I’ll post parts of my work here. I want your feedback, of course, but most of all, I’d love it if you would throw a bag in the back of your car, grab a road map, and join me on this great Florida adventure.

Florida Studies and the Sour Orange Margarita

 

Oranges in central Florida, perfect for sour orange margaritas
Introducing the sour orange margarita. Pictured: oranges at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, where many of the formerly orderly groves now have wild offspring. Yes, you can find sour oranges here. 
Photo by Cathy Salustri

How chasing a master’s degree in Florida Studies led to the creation of the first-ever sour orange margarita.

Ever since I took the Florida Foodways class (karma’s bitch, by the way), I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of a Florida cocktail. I even attempted to research it, which, according to my professor, didn’t work out for me, but hey, that could have been the whole itching powder thing a few years back or just crappy research on my part. Whatever. Anyway, when I couldn’t find a definitive Florida cocktail, I got to thinking that I could come up with one. I worked with key lime margaritas for a while, but when the Florida Studies program went to Fisheating Creek a few months ago, I grabbed a handful of sour oranges growing wild there. I wasted that batch on a sour orange pie that I didn’t really care for, but when the faculty went back last week two of them were kind enough to make sure I got a fresh batch. I’ll try sour orange pie again, but until then…

Florida Studies Sour Orange Margarita

Mull all but one slice of key lime covered with a healthy dose of Tupelo honey (purchased on north Florida field trip with the Florida Geography class); add to shaker.
Add ice, and then…
5 counts tequila
4 counts triple sec
and the juice from one sour orange.

Shake. Serve with or without ice; garnish with key lime slice.

See? Higher education… it’s a good thing!

Related: More than sour orange margaritas

Try my recipe for sour orange cider and sour orange pie.

This post initially appeared on my former blogspot site.

Florida road trips.