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Kara's Sights & Bites: Gulf Coast's history, funnel cakes are just two reasons to visit

By Kara Kimbrough


Kara's Sights & Bites: Gulf Coast's history, funnel cakes are just two reasons to visit
Buccaneer State Park is the perfect place for overnight camping or a fun day trip to the Gulf Coast.

The history of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has always intrigued me. When I briefly (emphasis on brief) entertained the thought of earning a Ph.D., the origin on the area's founding and its first inhabitants is the only topic I considered for a dissertation topic. Academic goals aside, I still love reading about the arrival of American Indians, including the Pascagoula tribe, followed in 1699 by French explorer Pierre d'Iberville. In subsequent decades, immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, Scotland, Croatia, Vietnam and other places followed, making it the melting pot of cultures and cuisines we enjoy today. 


    For a quick history lesson, a visit to the Biloxi Welcome Center provides a fascinating recap of the area's early days through interactive displays and colorful photographs, personal recordings and written narratives. Plus, it's the ultimate place to stop to utilize clean restrooms and relax for a minute in rocking chairs on the porch overlooking the Biloxi Lighthouse and beach.


   Additionally, a scenic spot in Hancock County combines a beach view, large moss-draped oaks, marshlands and fun family activities in an historic site dating back centuries. I’m referring to Waveland's Buccaneer State Park.


     Back in the late 1700’s, French buccaneer Jean Lafitte and his followers were busy smuggling and pirating treasures. Traveling along Mississippi's coastline, they were so taken with the area's beauty that they decided to dock their ships and stay awhile. In fact, Lafitte set up his headquarters in the old Pirate House a short distance from today's state park.


     Fast forward to the 1800's and Andrew Jackson labeled the area “Jackson's Ridge” after building a military base there during the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson loved the area so much that he returned after the way and built a house on land that is now Buccaneer State Park.


     It's interesting to think of the park's fascinating history, but don't expect to see many landmarks of olden days. Hurricane Katrina obliterated most of the park's historic structures courtesy of its nearly 30-foot tidal surge. However, a major renovation project completed in 2013 fully restored the park to its beauty and functionality.


     With names like Pirate's and Treasure Coves, Jean Lafitte and Royal Cay, today the park includes 206 premium campsites, 70 field campsites and primitive camping spots, many overlooking the bay. 

     If camping is not in your plans or you’re only on the Coast for the day, the park is the perfect place to stop and enjoy a picnic, savor cool bay breezes and enjoy being outside in a natural setting. A minimal fee is charged per visitor; children under 3 get in free. Hike Pirate's Alley Nature Trail, enjoy Jackson's Ridge disc golf, try your luck at fishing and enjoy a meal under one of the pavilions. 


     Reopening Memorial Day weekend will be Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre waterpark; a separate admission fee is charged for this attraction.


    Located near Buccaneer is the Silver Slipper Casino Hotel, which I featured after a visit last summer. I failed to sample what I soon learned is one of the main reasons locals visit the resort’s Jubilee Buffet – hot funnel cakes topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream. I tried Cajun, Creole, Southern, Asian, Mexican, Italian and other cuisines, along with fresh boiled shrimp and crab legs. But somehow, I overlooked the funnel cake station and instead, chose key lime pie for dessert. Big mistake. Huge.


   After I told this story - OK, more than once - a friend provided a simple recipe for the fair food treat. Luckily, I had all the ingredients on hand and was able to make my own funnel cake in no time. It was good, but I still plan to visit the Slipper soon to try the buffet’s “famous funnel cakes” for myself.


If You Go:

What: Buccaneer State Park

Where: 1150 S. Beach Blvd, Waveland

Contact: 228-467-3822 for more details on hours of operation and fees for activities


It’s easy to make funnel cakes at home, just like the fair treat that’s only offered one time during the year.

Easy Funnel Cake

(makes two funnel cakes)

¼ cup milk

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

¾ teaspoon baking powder

1 pinch salt

½ cup all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons powdered sugar

     In a large liquid measuring cup or batter bowl with a spout, whisk together milk, egg, water and vanilla. Add sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk until combined. Add the flour, and whisk until completely smooth. Set aside.


     In a medium, deep-sided skillet, heat an inch of oil to 375 degrees over medium-high heat. When you put the end of a wooden spoon in the pot and bubbles form around the spoon, it's ready. Reduce heat to medium.


    Drizzle batter from a measuring cup with a spout in a thin circle, overlapping as desired to create a solid cake. Cook for 2 minutes or until light golden brown, then flip and cook another 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan and place on paper towel-lined dish. Dust with 2 tablespoons powdered sugar and serve. Repeat with the remaining batter.


Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.


 



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