04-29-2012, 10:15 PM
"Local Flavor Is Never Out of Style"
Castaway Lodge "Seadrifter Report"
By Capt. Kris Kelley
“Walk With Me For a Minute”
Nothing intrigues me like "the history and the how-to’s" and the deep local flavor of this small Texas coastal community. I think I could write a mini-novelette on this subject and this kind of stuff often gets the juices flowing. When it comes to local flavor, I try to embrace it and incorporate it into our philosophy from cultivating local fishing talent right down to the food we serve here at The Lodge. The food one experiences while staying with us says allot about us. I would describe it as simple, unpretentious, local in origin, fresh, and top quality. Steaks say allot about us, Black Angus "Choice" and lots of it loosely trimmed with Wendi's seasonings and flavor in spades; Center-cut pork chops cut an inch thick and marinated in Wendi's sauce and grilled to perfection; custom smoked meats from our very own "Orange Tree Smokehouse" just stupefy all that partake with Baby Back Ribs, brisket, chicken, and sausage. Wendi's Oyster Stew is a wintertime experience for our hunting guests that was handed down to her by our neighbor Mr. Butch Mullins. This is where the local flavor comes in.
Butch is a native Seadrifter, born here and raised up in Gregory. He loves to work and play on the bay. Now in his mid 70's, Butch taught school here and some of the guides working with me were his students. When it comes to the "how-to's and local flavor" of Seadrift, Butch has it in spades. Schedules are busy with the fast pace of things these days, but every now and then we collide for a moment and he manages to let some pearls loose. Butch loves to “Coon" oysters, kayak, and throw lures in the back country areas he frequents for Redfish. He doesn't keep them; he just likes to catch them. Butch and Wendi trade dishes and recipes occasionally. We inundate Butch with left over’s from the dining here, we call it "meals without wheels". He loves Wendi's beef tips and rice and her Chili buckles his knees. We love his Oyster Stew and he will often bring us oysters so we can make his recipe for ourselves and our guests. Well, Butch tossed a pearl out the other day and it's classic "Butch" which is deep old school, and rare.
Looking For Pearls
That pearl was Coquina Clam Stew "ko-keena". Coquina is the small shells we see washed up on the beaches and are curious multi-colored little gems. I've seen the shell a dozen times but pondered them little. What I didn't know is that once a year, typically in the spring, they wash up on the beaches by the thousands. Some 60 years ago in Port Aransas, Butch learned that you can steam the little crustations to form a broth used in chowders and soups. They throw off an oyster flavor without the oyster. Sure enough, he dropped a pot of that on our guests, some air conditioning contractors unsuspecting of the rare occasion and delicacy they were about to experience. In five minutes they devoured it and began questioning the "how-to's"?
Extracting the juices from the little clams requires harvesting them from the beach first of all. Timely care of the "live creatures" finds Butch freezing them after an extensive washing. He then piles them in a pot adding a few cups of water and steaming them in the pot. He removes the clams and then uses the juice in his recipe for Oyster Stew. I'm sure the broth would flavor other things equally as well.
Add More Sage
It's Dewberry season around here. Dewberries are like wild Raspberries growing on thorny rose-hedge-esque vines in brushy environs. They are favored among locals for jellies and jams. Bo Cunningham just made up a nice batch of Dewberry Jam and was gracious enough to drop some by the lodge. His son, Capt. James Cunningham had the honors of doing the picking which always entails blood, scratches, and the occasional Rattle Snake. Bo is another colorful character and self made successful Seadrift businessman. Pushing his 80’s now, Bo was always behind us from the start and I can’t begin to revisit the lessons I learned on our “sit downs”. He was instrumental as a mentor in our construction here at The Lodge and he never hesitated to advise and guide us when needed.
Around the holidays, vanilla extract is a big-time necessity. I'll never forget our dearly departed friend Mr. Woody Cargile that taught Wendi and me many lessons. Woody was a Korean War Vet that settled in Seadrift many years ago. The scars from that War were not kind to Woody but he was a kind and generous soul. Like Butch, Woody knew so much about everything. There isn't anything like turning wrenches on an airboat to extract that wisdom under dire circumstances. Woody had every tool imaginable and the knowhow to use them. His meticulous approach in the mechanical arts filtered down to some serious cooking as well. Woody taught Wendi the art of making "cream pies" the likes of which the women in my family would have left the kitchen if she had been around "back in the day". Interestingly, he taught Wendi how to make her own vanilla extract as well from whole vanilla beans.
While the use of Coquina's, Dewberry's, or homemade vanilla extract for most of us won't happen anytime soon, I thought the stories were fascinating and show the resourcefulness of a very gifted, loving, tough and determined people and I hope you enjoyed it. Some of the most valuable life lessons come from the strangest messengers. The wise are smart enough to absorb it for what it's worth. That's a lesson I teach around here and I've never turned my back on it!
We hope the dawn of a new week greets you kindly. Come see us when you get a chance.
Capt. Kris Kelley
"Affordable convenience, personal service, good people and great fishing"
Last edited by Capt. Kris Kelley; 04-29-2012 at 10:29 PM.