Gasparilla, Tampa’s Mardi Gras

Jose Gaspar, the “last of the Buccaneers” was a pirate who haunted the many bays and inlets of the West Florida coast during the late 18th and early 19th century. Formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Spanish Navy, in 1783 Gaspar and his crew of fellow mutineers seized command of a Spanish sloop-of-war and set sail for the Florida straits. This fearsome pirate amassed a great fortune, but was finally trapped by the U.S. Navy. Rather than be taken alive, he wrapped an anchor chain around his body and leaped into the sea. Some say his buried treasure was never found.

Since 1904, citizens of Tampa have celebrated the pirate’s legend with a mock-invasion and parade down beautiful Bayshore Boulevard. This Tampa tradition inspired The Junior League of Tampa to create a cookbook based on the many local flavors of our area. Click here to learn more at the official website for the Gasparilla Festival.

Below is an excerpt from The Gasparilla Cookbook, originally published in 1961.

At no time during the year is the cosmopolitan nature of Tampa more evident than at Gasparilla. All over the city visitors from far and near join with the native populace in celebrating this joyous midwinter festival. Under the skies as blue as a robin’s egg the participants set out with picnic hampers to watch the pirate invasion of the city from grassy spots on the banks of the sparkling bay or from the decks of pleasure boats. Later in the day there will be cocktail parties where the company is good, and the hors d’oeuvres bring to the occasion a touch of Latin flavor which is typical also of the city.

As the backgrounds of Tampa’s citizens are varied, so are the foods. One finds the usual canapés and cocktail spreads interspersed with such delicacies as Bollitos or Guacamole. Bollitos are a Spanish appetizer made from ground dried black-eyed peas, flavored highly with garlic, formed into small balls, and fried in deep fat until they are crusty, crunchy gold. Waiters bearing trays of these piping hot tidbits often get the feeling they are being followed. Many a guests has foregone dinner after a cocktail party because he was replete with Bollitos.

Guacamole is a creamy dip, the color of chartreuse, made from the incomparable Florida avocado pear. In the older sections of town there is a towering glossy-leaved avocado tree in every backyard, and when the fruit is ripe there is occasion for rejoicing. Neighbors appear mysteriously on the premises with a look of hope in their eyes. Is it possible the family has more pears than they can eat right away? The smooth rich meat of the avocado is a feat served with just salt and pepper, oil and vinegar, but there are many other ways to utilize this fruit which is truly more like a vegetable. Guacamole is a Spanish way of preparing the mashed avocado meat with spices, lemon, onion, and mayonnaise for a party snack which is a regional favorite.

Original Recipes

Bollitos – La Florida

  • 1 pound dry black-eyed peas
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Soak the peas overnight. In the morning slip the skins from the peas. (This is done by rubbing the peas between the hands.) Wash and drain. Grind the peas and garlic fine until almost a paste. Add salt. Beat until the consistency of cake batter, then chill. Drop from a tablespoon into deep fat heated to 350 degrees. Brown and serve hot.


  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 large peeled avocado
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced onion
  • Mayonnaise

Rub a wooden bowl with cut garlic clove. Place avocado in a bowl and mash with a silver fork. Add salt, chili powder, lemon juice, and minced onion. Mix well and taste for seasoning. Put the Guacamole in a serving bowl and cover with a thin layer of mayonnaise (to prevent the avocado from blacking). Stir well just before serving. This can be used as a canapé spread or a raw vegetable dip, and it is very good as a dressing for head of lettuce salad.

About The Gasparilla Cookbook

The Junior League of Tampa’s The Gasparilla Cookbook is a proven classic, with its collection of superb recipes from famous West Coast Florida restaurants and locally renowned hostesses. This is a traditional cook’s book, featuring gourmet regional cuisine and prized heirloom recipes spotlighting the area’s blend of Spanish, Greek, Cuban, Italian, and Southern heritages. A welcome addition to the cookbook collection of both novice and accomplished cooks, The Gasparilla Cookbook features fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood, and includes easy instructions, and serving suggestions that make cooking and entertaining fun!

A national Tabasco Award winner, The Gasparilla Cookbook is 326 pages, and contains more than 700 recipes. An ideal hostess, shower, or holiday gift, The Gasparilla Cookbook is 7″ x 10″ in size, with a hard-back cover. The Gasparilla Cookbook retails for $14.95 each.

Click here to order your copy of The Gasparilla Cookbook!


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