POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Gator jerky: A roadside delicacy?

Roadside stands

Roadside stands are a part of the rural landscape most weekends in Central Florida. (Orlando Sentinel file / May 30, 2006)

Despite the formidable pile of debris on my desk, the back seat of my car and in other quasi-public areas, I'm actually a closet germaphobe disguised as a carefree dude.

At least that's my explanation for never stopping to buy the produce, honey, boiled peanuts and other goodies from the roadside stands that populate Central Florida's rural thoroughfares on weekends. Lately, in my role as your traveling correspondent, I've started bending that rule.

It's not always pretty.

On a recent trip to Polk County, I sampled a pork taco at a roadside barbecue stand headquartered in a mobile home. It was going OK until I bit down on a fingernail-sized rubber pellet that I first mistook for a piece of gristle. At least it wasn't a fingernail, right?

(Honestly, the things I do for you people.)

There are temptations, however, that are worth the risks, which is where the gator jerky signs come in.

I have been passing the homemade, cardboard placards for a long time on excursions into Lake County along State Road 46. A big fan of fried gator bites and gator po' boys, I was confident that I'd be able to handle the jerky version, made of meat, soy sauce, salt and spices, according to recipes I'd seen online.

So I pulled over to the dusty shoulder of the highway this past weekend at the stand about midway between Sanford and Mount Dora.

I wouldn't call this particular gator jerky salesman the most outgoing Floridian I've ever met. I did learn that his gator jerky is made by his grandfather in South Florida and that he's been selling it in this particular spot for a couple of years. The guy next to him, stirring the pot of boiled peanuts, wasn't too chatty, either.

"Those guys thought you were some health inspector," said my son, along for the ride. "He thought you were going to turn him in."

Hey, I just wanted the jerky.

Gator jerky is kind of pricey, as it turns out. My sealed baggie, filled with about half a dozen thick strips about 4-inches long, was $10. Big fans can take home three bags for $25.

I'm not a connoisseur of dried meat, but it wasn't bad. I couldn't tell it apart from beef jerky in a blind taste test, but at least it didn't have a rubber pellet in it.

 

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