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Stirring up memories


A peaceable kingdom
July 31, 2007

Tallahassee's 21st century traffic fills West Tennessee Street.

Folks are so intent on where they are going, many never notice the small sign just west of the intersection with Ocala. This sign welcomes the guest to Mission San Luis and another world from another time.

Turn right and you step right into that world from 400 years ago.

Those centuries ago there was also traffic along what is now West Tennessee, but it was the foot traffic of the native Apalachee Indians as they tilled their fields and hunted wild game.

One day 400 years ago in the summer of 1607 (the same year that English settlers arrived in Jamestown, Va.), the Apalachee chiefs asked the governor of Spanish Florida to send the friars to live among them and to teach them the Christian religion. Soon the Apalachee received these friendly visitors. Traveling Spanish friars arrived; the Apalachee welcomed them.

The friars did not stay long, and visited only occasionally until 1633 when they came to stay, establishing a mission. In 1656 they moved to larger quarters—to Mission San Luis. There they constructed a huge council house for civic activities, a Franciscan Church and a fort.

A few Spanish families arrived, but not many Spanish women came to the settlement. Many of the European men married Apalachee women. All lived together in relative peace. (There was one uprising led by non-Christian Indians.)

The gentle climate allowed for enough farming not only to provide for the needs of the residents but a surplus for trade.

Using small boats, the residents could reach St. Marks where they could trade for goods from all over the world. The community grew until it had around 1,500 people and was the western capital of La Florida.

The good times did not last.

War in far-off Europe intervened. Early in the 1700s the English, now firmly entrenched in the Carolinas, began to attack Spanish Florida, at first concentrating on St. Augustine.

Later the English and their Creek Indian allies made raids on the Apalachee. Then, 303 years and one day ago, on July 31, 1704, the Spaniards and the Apalachee packed their valuable belongings, took down the church bell and buried it, then set fire to their homes, the council house, the fort, their church and their fields.

They fled.

The British arrived on Aug. 2.

Many of the Apalachee were captured and enslaved. Some moved westward to Pensacola and Mobile while others went to St. Augustine. The dispersed people never returned to their homeland.

Over time, nature reclaimed the settlement. Many years later, in 1855, A.M. Rudolph established a plantation on the site. Later, James Messer acquired what had been Mission San Luis and built a large home there. Today it is the Misson's visitor center.

San Luis rises again
But the Apalachee story and culture is not lost. In 1983 the State of Florida bought the Messer home and land. Today, San Luis stands again.

The huge council house is open to the sky, but because of its construction rain does not come in and even in the hot months of July and August, it is comfortably cool inside. This served as an early day "civic center." Special events such as ball games, dances and war preparations took place here. The rulers of the community met here to conduct the routine day-to-day business of the community.

Across the plaza from the council house stands the rebuilt Franciscan church where Spaniards and Apalachee worshiped together.

Down a path (or you can take the Ravine Path Trail) stands the fort.

You will see more than the buildings and the trees. You will meet the people—an Apalachee flute maker was at the council house practicing his craft on our last visit.

Across the way, a Spanish mother and her daughter explained how they aired the bedding every day to keep their home sweet and fresh, while young farmers tended the poultry near the blacksmith shop. These professional re-enactors add the final special touch to make the trip back in time complete.

A visit to the Mission is a great way to spend a summer afternoon. (Take water!) This Saturday is a particularly fine time—especially if there are youngsters along on the adventure. From 8:30 to 9:30, while it is still cool, there will be a special presentation on that Big Bend bane, then and now, "Historical Happenings: Mosquitoes: The Common Curse of Native Americans and Early Settlers." From 11 until around 1 p.m. the fort will be filled with happy kids—and grown-ups—participating in crafts. Pack a picnic and check it out.

The diet staple of Indians and settlers alike was a trio of foods: corn, squash and beans. Here are some dishes that are as good today as they were 300 or 400 years ago.

Apalachee corn pudding
3 cups corn (frozen or fresh) kernels
2 beaten eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup grated cheddar (or other) cheese
chopped parsley to taste
fresh basil or cilantro to taste

Combine all the ingredients and pour into a greased casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the top is browned and puffy.

Corn and black bean relish
1¼ cup cooked black beans (I used rinsed canned beans)
1¼ cup cooked fresh or frozen corn kernels
¾ cup finely diced red onion
¾ cup red or green bell pepper
2 jalapenos, minced (or less, to taste)
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Combine all ingredients except for parsley and mix well. Refrigerate up to three days. Bring to room temperature and add parsley.

Summer squash sauté
Small amount of olive oil
fresh squash (yellow, zucchini or pattypan)
sliced green onions
chicken stock
grated cheese (optional)

Heat oil in a heavy nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Sauté squash and onions two minutes, stirring frequently. Add stock, salt and pepper to taste. Continue to sauté another 2-3 minutes, or until squash is tender and liquid is evaporated. When the squash is done, remove the pan from the heat, sprinkle grated cheese over the squash and then cover briefly until the cheese melts. I serve this straight from the skillet.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network