Tag Archives: Florida

EATING APALACHICOLA OYSTERS

Fried Oysters served in a local restaurant.

Fried Oysters served in a local restaurant.

Apalachicola has been called the oyster capital of the world with good reason. The Apalachicola River empties into the Gulf of Mexico creating one of the cleanest estuaries in America. This is the environment oysters need to live and grow on the floor of the bay. They need the right mix of salt and fresh water.

For centuries as evidenced by shell mounds, oysters have thrived here. But these days the river is low. Two rivers originate to the north in Georgia and Alabama and combine to form the Apalachicola River, the largest waterway in the Florida Panhandle. Much of the river’s waters are used by the population of the city of Atlanta and by agriculture in Georgia. Life in the bay is threatened; oysters are diminishing. Oysters are available here but to a lesser degree than a few years ago.

A significant portion of people living in Franklin County depends on the health of the oyster business. Harvesting oysters is hard work whether shucking oysters, or scraping oysters with a long rake off the floor of the bay or working in another capacity. The average hourly wage in the county is seven dollars and thirty-seven cents. It’s hard to know what the future holds for harvesting and eating oysters in the area. It seems likely the previous plenty of oysters will not be part of life here again unless some radical changes in water use occur. A strong flow of fresh water in the Apalachicola River is required for healthy oysters.

A platter of oysters prepared with garlic sauce and cheese.

A platter of oysters prepared with garlic sauce and cheese.

Tourists come to this largely rural region at least in part to enjoy eating shellfish. I’m one of them. Oysters here are plump and sweet. And they are fresh. Those bought yesterday by members of our family and cooked in the evening were sold from a refrigerated trailer right on St. George Island, and brought in that morning or the day before by local fishermen. Those fishing companies still active are selling in nearby small towns, five or seven miles away. They also load refrigerated trucks to take oysters and other gifts from the gulf to Tampa, Jacksonville, or even Chicago.

Broiled Seafood Platter

Oysters and scallops

Oysters and scallops

Here’s the easy recipe for the home cooked oysters, scallops and shrimp.

Saute shallots, garlic, Old bay and red pepper flakes in olive oil. Toss seafood in the sauce, season with salt and pepper or other seasoning of your choice. Spread the seafood on flat cooking sheets. Broil three to five minutes or until the seafood is cooked to your taste.

Broiled shrimp.

Broiled shrimp.

Wow! What a treat!

We served our seafood with roasted asparagus, tossed garden salad, and clam chowder, made from clams gathered by a local seafood company at Alligator Point. Condiments at our table included hot sauce and prepared horseradish.

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A pot of clam chowder.

A pot of clam chowder.

Thanks to an essay by Susan Cerulean “Robbing the River” in her new book Coming To Pass: Florida’s Coastal Islands in A Gulf of Change for the background information in this post.

If you would like this clam chowder recipe, prepared for a vegetarian diet, comment with your request and I will send it to you.

A HEART OF FLORIDA SMALL TOWN, MICANOPY

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A few weeks ago a national publication featured 10 Florida small towns worth visiting. The list was fun reading. More fun than reading about the towns is visiting. So I am starting my own 2015 list of small towns (not limited to Florida), fun to visit and to read about.

Number one on the list is Micanopy. It is located in west central Florida, south of Gainesville, and not far from Marjorie Rawlins’ home at Cross Creek and The Yearling Restaurant. The main street puts one in mind of Old Florida and is lined with antique shops and gift emporiums. Don’t miss the ice cream. Outstanding!

This year I discovered the big used bookstore was gone. Still, other shops did have books. There are plenty of places to browse for whatever draws you in and makes your eyes sparkle.

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Near the center of town is this historical marker: “William Bartram 1739-1823” (Regular readers of this blog know what a fan of Mr. Bartram I am.) “The great Quaker naturalist of Philadelphia made a long journey through the southeastern states in the 1770’s collecting botanical specimens. In May, 1774, he visited the Seminole chief, Cowkeeper, at the Indian village of Cuscowilla located near this spot. His book Travels…. provided the earliest reliable account of the North Florida landscape, flora and fauna, and Indian life and his vivid images of local scenes inspired Coleridge, Wordsworth and Emerson.”

When I return home I will be rereading this section of Travels.

For now, here are scenes from the center of Micanopy.

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Every doorway beckons, red, green, or any color.

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Nested pottery bowls

Nested pottery bowls

Sorry I left those for someone else to purchase.

On another visit I’ll hope to see more of this interesting small town.

Do share your favorite small town so others can visit and explore.

WHICH PINE STAYS IN YOUR MIND?

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WHICH PINE STAYS IN YOUR MIND?
Nature photography by Jerry Lein

When you think of Florida, what pictures of the natural world fill your mind? Beaches, ocean, gulf waters, maybe swamps, sand scrub, cattle pastures? There is variety. Driving across the Panhandle to St. George Island, and later traveling north through the Apalachicola Forest as we head toward home, there are pine trees everywhere, or so it seems. Pines are an important part of Florida scenery in many parts of the state. They even crown the sand dunes on the eastern end of St. George Island. That lovely barrier island lives to the east of Apalachicola Bay. After a few days focusing on pines instead of ocean, I’m pinching my brain to remember the specific tall trio of the pine family I love to revisit.

Apalachicola Forest

Apalachicola Forest

The word loblolly sticks in my mind because it’s fun to say, but which tall tree is the loblolly and what are the other two? This year I left a favorite reference book, National Geographic Field Guide to the Trees of North America at home. So I wait until I am home to examine pictures and think more about the tall pines of the southeast. The book was a gift from friends a number of years ago. It’s a handy reference for a novice or a forgetful nature-lover. I often travel with it. The book’s long narrow shape and colorful pictures make it easy to use. It contains much information. I wish I spent more time with it, but I do love to remind myself about the trio of southern pines.

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The three pines are: longleaf pine, slash pine and loblolly pine. They grow in poor soil, but often achieve a height of over one hundred feet. The trunks stand straight. The needles of the longleaf pine are the longest of this type of tree, as one would expect from the name. This is the pine seen at dry sandy sites such as the St. George Island State Park. The loblolly pine is dense at the top and grows in wet areas. Loblollies are moist depressions and so the name of this pine. The slash pine is the one I remember best because the bark of the trunk is marked in a way that makes me think of the word “slash.” It is found in wet sandy flatwoods. This tree has a wide spreading crown that is distinctive against the blue Florida sky.

St. George Island

St. George Island

From the National Audubon Society Collection Nature series, titled North American Trees is another tree book I like to use. This book reminded me that these three trees are characteristic of the southeast. These trees present a kind of beauty that is hard to describe. I note their symmetry, strength and grace. They hold a promise: our earth will endure.

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Do you have a reference book you wouldn’t want to be without? Tell us about it, share the title and when you use it. With this conversation about reference books, I must admit that the internet is an important resource. A book might not have a full picture of every kind of pine, but usually the internet can be counted on as a good picture source. The cliché is true. A picture is worth, well, it is helpful. Enjoy Jerry’s pictures of this trio of trees. Seems like the three together are easier to remember than which one features which characteristics?

LOVING THE LOCAL SHRIMP AT SALT WATER COWBOYS

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Local shrimp, tender and sweet, is one of the joys of St. Augustine, Florida. These winter days shrimp boats parade along the horizon on the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the local restaurants are smart enough to serve this local fish in a variety of ways.

Salt Water Cowboys is one such restaurant. The building brings to mind a fishing shack; it settles among the salt marshes along the intercoastal waterway. Inside, Old Florida atmosphere abounds. This past week with some Cowboy Lemonade spiked with vodka and other good stuff to warm us up, we ate one of the most delicious shrimp dinners ever.

A very congenial waiter soon set before us the essentials of an Old Florida Shrimp Feast. We didn’t gaze at the beauty of the dishes long because everything was dive-right-into-it inviting. The aroma of the Oysters Dondanville smothered in garlic butter and vermouth flavored bread crumbs had us pushing aside the Cowboy Lemonade.

Soon the true comeback dish at Saltwater Cowboys arrived. As the waiter said, “If this salad ever left the menu there would probably be a riot in protest.” He placed before us a salad of crisp romaine on a cold plate topped with thin rings of red onion, apple slices, walnuts and raisins and draped in the most delicious creamy tangy dressing you will ever eat. (I have tried to reproduce it, but mine is never as good as Saltwater’s.)

The shrimp! Oh-My! The light crispy shrimp was perfectly prepared, butterflied, tender and tasty. My handsome companion ordered and enjoyed 3 Way Shrimp. Creamy Red Pepper Shrimp Sauce topped the crab-stuffed shrimp. The Barbequed Shrimp were broiled, and he had light, crispy fried shrimp, too. The trimmings were all delicious.

Helpful, friendly service is the norm here. Hot is hot and cold is cold. No rushing. At least this week, Salt Water Cowboys had it all. If Cracker Cooking means delicious. This is the place to find it. They serve chicken, fish, ribs, and other local good food. And, believe me, the shrimp is outrageously good!

Check their website: saltwatercowboys.com

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