Thursday, May 31, 2012

A beautiful catch from western NC stream

     The first Saturday in June is like Christmas Day for fly fishermen.  That's when our friends Sally and Joe are awakened in the middle of the night, not by someone coming down the chimney, but by the headlights of pickups and SUVs, angling for a parking space along the dirt road that follows Helton Creek in Ashe County.  They're all trying to lay claim to the beautiful, deep pool by the rock, or under the hemlock where so many snagged flies hang like Christmas ornaments.

 "Just one more cast. . . ."

     So what's the excitement?  Aren't the rainbows, brookies or specks, and brownies - NC's beautiful mountain trout - there swimming and eluding fishermen all the time?  Yep.  But beginning Saturday, until October, fishermen can KEEP their catch, rather than having to catch and release.
     Do you know how sobering, how tempting it is to reel in a big one, and then have to let it go?  Knowing that it would fill up your frying pan but good?  It's enough to make a grown man cry, just like the younger boy did when he didn't get a racing bike or car keys one holiday.   I know the hubby has a tender heart, and he always says that he let the fish go to get bigger.  But I also know he's just made a promise to catch it again, when the controlled harvest regulations are lifted.

     The little brookies and brown trout that Steve has caught are throw-backs.  They are tiny, but fun to catch since they are so very elusive and wary.
Let's see, can I focus?
     But those rainbows, they can have some size to them.  That's a fulfilling day, to spend wading in a stream, have the thrill of reeling one of those big boys all the way in, and then having it grace your dinner plate.
     Trout can be lightly floured, then fried in a little butter and oil.  Throw in some subtle chopped herbs, salt and pepper to taste, and that's just mighty fine.
     Or, try the recipe that follows, shared with me by John and Julie Stehling, the lovely owners of one of my favorites, Early Girl Eatery in Asheville, for THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK.   I love to do trout this way, because you simply bake the trout, then top the fillets with a fresh blackberry and green tomato sauce.
At the farmers markets, no chiggers, no thorns.
     Some folks call the native wild blackberries "dewberries" and they're worth the chiggers.  Just wear long sleeves and pants, secured to your wrists and ankles!  And choose thickets, esp. those on the roadside, that have not possibly been sprayed.
     You'll find baskets upon baskets of fresh blackberries at area farmers markets soon.Many of the new varieties are named for Native Americans, like Arapaho, Kiowa, Navaho, and in keeping suit,  NCSU, named one of their research varieties  "Nantahala", like the river and area in western North Carolina.
      And if you can't catch your own, try for some fresh trout fillets at area markets, esp. those from Sunburst Trout in Canton, NC.


(C) From THE NEW BLUE RIDGE COOKBOOK:  Authentic Recipes from VA's Highlands to NC's Mountains, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2010.  

Trout with Green Tomatoes & Blackberry Sauce, from Early Girl Eatery
            Blackberry thickets grow along roads and mountainsides in the Blue Ridge, although you may avoid scratches and chiggers by purchasing gorgeous berries at local farmers markets.  Those cultured varieties are generally seedless and more plump without sacrificing flavor. 
            John and Julie Stehling have been leaders in the farm-to-table movement in the Asheville area.  “That relationship has to work both ways, with accountability and responsibility on both parts,” says John.  Many of the young farmers that supply Early Girl Eatery have become friends, sharing potlucks suppers with young kids racing around.   
            John features two favorite Blue Ridge foods – mountain trout and fresh blackberries – with this recipe.  The green tomato prevents the sauce from being overly sweet. 
1 green tomato
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced lemon zest
¾ cup sugar
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground nutmeg
¼ cup water
1 pint fresh blackberries
salt, to taste
4 trout filets, 5- ounces each
olive oil
1.     Core the green tomato and puree in blender or food processor.
2.     In non-stick saucepan, bring the puree to a low boil on medium heat.  Add lemon juice and zest, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and water.  Lower the heat and let simmer until the mixture is the thickness of a rich marinara.
3.     Remove from heat and gently stir in blackberries.  Add salt to taste.  Set aside while you prepare the trout.
4.     Preheat oven to 450°.  Lightly oil and salt both sides of the filets.
5.     Place trout on a rack over a baking pan and bake until fish is flaky, about 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
6.     Place baked trout filets on plate and top with sauce.
YIELD:  4 Servings

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Built in 1823, this simply beautiful lighthouse is the oldest operating beacon still operating in NC.

"OCRACOKE is at the end of the world," said my fellow diner at the lovely Dajio, (,  a relatively new restaurant nestled under live oak trees near Silver Lake's waterfront.  "I wanted to take my wife to  where there were no lights, no cities, just peace," he explained with a bit of Quebecois accent.  The satellite image on his GPS pointed him to a strip of darkness that took them three days of driving from Montreal to get to.  He was a happy man.  He had devoured a pair of soft shells, his wife toasted him with wine, and he was trying Ocracoke's famous fig cake.

The British Cemetery on Ocraocke, where four British sailors who washed up during WWII were buried by the islanders, following seamen's traditions.

This Canadian couple was just one of several "foreigners" at Dajio's that night.  Another from Switzerland, another from Germany.  And for centuries, boats from all over the world have carefully made their way through the shoals leading to this tiny port.  Blackbeard, a native son turned pirate, met his demise there at the hands of a British captain, anxious to stop the looting of their royal ships. 

During World War II, four British sailors washed ashore in May of 1942, when a German submarine torpedoed the HMS Bedforeshire, a retrofitted fishing trawler that was helping the US ward off the U-boats preying on tankers and freighters along the East Coast.  None of the crew survived.  When two, then four bodies washed up on Ocracoke, the islanders buried them in a donated plot under live oaks.  That's what seamen do for each other, sort of a unwritten code.  Recently, the son of one of those men arrived in Ocracoke to commemorate those four sailors.

Arrive by ferry, park your car, then bike or hoof it around town.  Sweet.
 I arrived in Ocracoke to eat.  I'm revising THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, and wanted to check out some new sources and gather some new tastes.  It's hard work.

Guess this rooster can't read the No Trespassing sign

Ocraoke is famous for its figs.  Over eleven varieties grow on this 14-mile stretch of sand, mostly in the village that surrounds the harbor, Silver Lake.  Late April, I was outta luck. I found out the homemade fig preserves, used to make their equally famous Fig Cake, go like hotcakes during the summer.  Woccocon, by the way, was the Native American name of this island.  I can see how Ocracoke sorta came out of that.

Fig preserves are sold out, but what's the fish emulsion for?

 At the Ocracoke Seafood Company, I found fresh clams, delivered by ClamDigger Jane.  She takes her skiff out into shallow waters surrounding the island, and tends to her leased bed where she continuously sows baby clams, then covers them with matting to ensure their harvest.  The matting keeps the skates at bay.
 The clams of Ocracoke are prized for their salty but sweet taste.  They grow in the ever flowing, cleaner waters of the Pamlico Sound, which is miles and miles wide at that point.  Back in the day, there was a clam factory in Ocracoke, where local young women worked for pennies, shucking clams and packing them into cans.

That got my mouth watering for some clams, steamed, and then in the clear chowder broth the Outer Banks is known for, and especially for clam fritters.

Clam fritters made in the Outer Banks style are more like pancakes than thicker hushpuppy style fritters.  And they are usually chock full of clams.  So here's the very traditional recipe that I used in THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK (by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2008).

Traditional OBX clam fritters
The recipe is rather simple:

About 1 1/2 to 2 cups chopped clams
1 beaten egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
about 1/2 cup flour
Optional:  a tablespoon of chopped fresh chives or parsley
Canola oil for frying

Drain the clams; reserve the juice.  Mix together the egg and seasonings, then add enough flour to hold the mixture together.  Add the clams, and stir.  Add more clam juice, or flour, whatever is needed to make a nice, thickened batter.
Heat enough oil in a heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, to cover the bottom well.  When hot, add spoonfuls of batter, and fry until golden brown.  Flip and brown again.  Place on paper towels to drain.
Serve with softened butter, or softened cream cheese or goat cheese, that's enhanced with herbs or honey.  Enjoy!

As renowned Southern chef and writer Virginia Willis says as she closes her blog and recipes, please be nice.  If you decide to use or copy or re-post, please be nice and give credit.  Thanks!