Prue Leith’s 2,200-mile road trip from California to Florida



Plantation Alley along the Great Mississippi Road, with its half-dozen “Gone with the Wind” style estates, now open to the public, blew me away. The most beautiful of these was Oak Alley, with its alley of 250-year-old Southern holm oaks, their branches creating a vast green tunnel. But I couldn’t understand how the beautiful trees were obviously so much older than the house. It turns out that these oak trees are native to the area and once grew all over the estate. When the house was built in 1836, enslaved laborers were forced to dig up 28 of the huge 60-70 year old trees, with root systems equal to the size of their canopies, and replant them in an avenue to the Mississippi. dyke.

The Great Mississippi Road eventually leads to New Orleans and the famous French Quarter, with its elaborate wrought iron balconies – a daytime image of Victorian good taste. We ignorant Brits had no idea that at night on Bourbon Street that ‘good taste’ became the flavor of daiquiris, pizzas and hot dogs against the backdrop of bands singing rock ‘n’ roll, small children beating trash cans, grown-ups playing jazz, and the raucous din of drunken tourists until 3 a.m.

But I liked the party vibe, and I really like the daiquiri, so we went on a pub crawl. I now know that the secret to a good mango daiquiri is fresh mango, not bottled mango syrup. And the next morning, after too many mango treats and little sleep, I learned that shrimp and grits, with a nice shred of cheese, is the perfect hangover cure.


Our road trip ended, as it had begun, on a beach. Only this one was fortunately far from the promenade of Venice.

We had rented a house for the week in the small Florida Panhandle community of Seacrest Beach on the Emerald Coast along Highway 30A. This eight-mile strip — a kind of perfectly designed, manufactured modern Eden — consists of 16 neighborhoods on white-sand beaches between Pensacola and Panama City. Developments with names like Rosemary Beach, Seagrove Beach, Alys Beach, Grayton Beach and WaterColor share the perfect sand and desired 30A address.

Everyone rides bikes and perfectly tanned mothers chat about kombucha and wheatgrass in sidewalk cafes. Even the kids look straight out of a high-end catalog.

Friends of friends, on vacation, invited us to their Thanksgiving dinner – turkey with all the trimmings, sweet potatoes, pecan pie and ice cream. In thanking them, I said something about the pleasure of such generosity, family closeness and politeness of their children. Our host burst out laughing. It’s because we’re from the South, she said. It wouldn’t be the same in Chicago. Maybe for the next road trip I’ll take a drive north to see if that’s true.



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