My family once had a neighbor, a belle of the Old South, who was fond of the phrase, "Of course, you know . . . ," which she would usually follow with a juicy disclosure.
In that spirit, I'll deliver a timely if not exactly sensational tidbit of historical news:
Of course, you know . . . the first Thanksgiving was actually in Florida — near St. Augustine in 1565, more than 50 years before that Massachusetts meal of legend.
Way back in the 1960s, Michael Gannon, the dean of Florida historians, described the 1565 Florida gathering, shared by Spaniards and Indians, as "the first community act of religion and Thanksgiving in the first permanent European settlement in the land."
But as Gannon has noted, it's difficult to get much respect for Florida's "oldest" status from the "powdered-wig states to the north." He also originated the observation that by the time the Pilgrims arrived, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.
A different kind of pumpkin
Thanks to Gannon, I've known about La Florida's first Thanksgiving for several years, but only recently did I learn about a staple of early Florida eating — the Seminole pumpkin. My introduction to them came at the UCF Public History Center's PumpkinFest in Sanford.
Seminole pumpkins "grow well in our climate," UCF history graduate student Megan Kaszmarek told me at PumpkinFest. "They're used to the humidity and bugs."
They also look more like a winter squash than a jack-o'-lantern pumpkin, according to the folks at South Seminole Farm and Nursery in Casselberry.
The yellow or orange fruit "is sweeter than other cucurbits" and "It can be baked, steamed, boiled, fried or sun-dried," as Florida's Indians did. (See sseminolefarmandnursery.com.)
Sweet stuff that fueled a war
Early non-native arrivals to Florida wrote of finding these goodies hanging from trees. The Creek word for them, chassahowitska, means "hanging pumpkin."
When native peoples migrated into Spanish Florida from Alabama and Georgia in the late 1700s and early 1800s, they brought along pumpkin seeds.
What's now called the Seminole pumpkin "had long been adapted to these southeastern Indians' gardening practices," Seminole historian Patsy West has written. "The vines grew up the tree, onto the bare limbs, and the ripened fruit hung down, out of reach of livestock and rot."
In the 1850s, pumpkins played a role in the Third Seminole War, according to historian Jim Robison.
The Seminole chief Holata Micco, called Billy Bowlegs, "had tried to keep the peace when the U.S. Army occupied Florida to try to round up the last remaining Seminoles," Robison writes.
"When Army surveyors trashed the chief's pumpkins and the rest of his garden and stole stalks of bananas, he demanded money and an apology."
After chief's demands were ridiculed and ignored, he responded with a pre-dawn raid in December 1855 that killed two men and wounding four others. "The bloodshed prompted two years of skirmishes," Robison writes.
"Fried pumpkin bread was one of the foods that kept the Seminoles going during those war years."
To learn more about it
I loved the Public History Center's PumpkinFest, which reminded me a bit of the long-ago Halloween carnivals at my grammar school, Hillcrest.
Activities included making pumpkin decorations out of strips of construction paper (thanks to my teacher, UCF grad student Katie Kelley).
Formerly the Student Museum, the Public History Center debuted in August as a collaboration of University of Central Florida and Seminole County schools. It's housed in the historic 1902 school building at 301 W. Seventh St. in Sanford, and has a lot to offer visitors of all ages.
The center is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 407-936-1679 or go to publichistorycenter.cah.ucf.edu.
The center is also slated to be the first stop on the 24th Annual Holiday Tour of Homes in Sanford on Saturday, Dec. 1. There's also a Friday-night Candlelight Tour of Homes on Nov. 30. See http://www.SanfordHistoricTrust.org for tickets and details.