"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
Driving along Highway 98 over the years from the beach into Port St. Joe (or “town,” as we beach kids called it; as in, "let's go to town to the Dairy Burger"), I saw a vast number of commercial fishing boats out on the lovely blue water. I won’t pretend to know the differences among all the boats I saw, but I do know that I was in awe of their stoic, peaceful presence in the midst of what sometimes felt like a chaotic world.
Our school bus was brought to a halt numerous times over the years, forced to wait for those boats to pass between the uplifted sides of the old drawbridge which, at that time, led from Highland View into Port St. Joe. As the drawbridge would slowly ascend into the hot blue sky, we’d sit on the green vinyl bus seats, sweating and impatient, wondering ignorantly why the bridge tender couldn’t make the process faster. Then the boat would serenely pass through, and the bridge would slowly descend again, so we could be back on our way to school.
I loved watching those boats. I loved imagining who might be on the boat, what they were like, and what kinds of treasures they might pull from the water that day. I was a bit jealous that I had to go to school to do algebra when the fishermen were able to go out to deep waters, far away, in my young mind, from the troubles of life, just concerning themselves with catching lots and lots of delicious fish and, my favorite, shrimp. I owe those moments of imagination to that drawbridge that I was annoyed with at the time.
Only once did I have the opportunity to go out on one of those vessels. I was in high school, and Mr. Guy and Mrs. Lila Gibson hosted a party for graduating seniors from our church youth group on one of the commercial fishing boats they owned. It was a sort of "launching the boat before you are launched into the adult world" party, in retrospect.
There was food on every clean surface of the boat, and coolers full of Cokes and bottled water. There were quiet, strong fishermen, probably wishing they didn’t have to fool with this group of students getting in their way, but they said nothing unkind. As we watched them work, I was captivated by the process of the nets being lowered, and later, as they pulled them back up, I watched the salty water pour from them back into the gulf, and felt the sea spray on my face. I loved it.
As the nets were dumped onto the boat’s surface, I remember seeing various creatures, including a small shark, which they threw back into the gulf, along with other captives they weren’t interested in keeping. I watched the men work the nets, pulling from them whet they had come for, believing as I watched that they really had the best job in the world.
I am very sure that Mr. Guy and Mrs. Lila cooked some of that catch for us to eat at some point that day, but I don’t remember now. I don’t remember if there were discussions at that time of the ecological impact of commercial fishing that comes up in conversation today. I honestly don’t recall.
What I do remember is the dancing of the nets, the feel and smell of the sea spray, the warmth of the sun on our skin, the peace and serenity of a day out on the gulf. Those who are still fortunate enough to do that work must truly feel they do have the best job in the world.
Speaking of shrimp, I recently enjoyed a pasta dish made by the chef from Copelands New Orleans, and the shrimp were perfect; tender, flavorful, and sweet.The chef said he gets them fresh from the coast of Louisiana each week, and I told him the effort was worth it. There is nothing like fresh Gulf shrimp, in my opinion, even if it is from Louisiana and not my beloved northwest Florida.
I have adapted his recipe to make my own version, which I hope you’ll enjoy, as well. Keep it in mind for a delicious Father's Day meal this weekend for your wonderful dad!
Shrimp Magnolia fettuccine
10-12 large shrimp (tail on)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 ounces grape tomato halves
1/2 cup white wine (or use broth)
2 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ounce fresh basil leaves, torn
2 or 3 green onions, sliced
1 teaspoon favorite seasoning blend (Tony Chacheres, etc.)
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 ounces fettuccine pasta, cooked and set aside; keep warm
1. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat.
2. Add shrimp and mushrooms and cook for one minute to sear shrimp and brown mushrooms.
3. Add tomatoes, garlic, red pepper flakes, and seasoning blend and saute for about 30 seconds until heated throughout.
4. Add white wine or broth and bring to a simmer, swirling to incorporate.
5. Remove from heat, add cream, butter, basil and green onions and stir with spatula gently to incorporate well and create sauce.
6. Place hot pasta in center of bowl.
7. Pour sauce and ingredients over pasta, tossing gently to coat strands with sauce.
You might also enjoy this gingered shrimp recipe I created for a quick, delicious meal:
Gingered shrimp stir-fry for one
6 thawed, pre-cooked shrimp
3-4 green onions, thinly sliced
3 mushrooms, sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, halved (I used yellow ones)
1/2 a zucchini, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1 cup frozen green beans
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ginger paste or fresh grated ginger, or 1/4 tsp dried ginger
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chili paste, or sriracha or other hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 to 1/2 a red bell pepper, sliced into thin slivers
1 teaspoon salt-free seasoning, such as Mrs. Dash
Sprinkle 1 teaspoon olive oil or canola oil in a 10-inch skillet.
When the oil is very warm, add all the vegetables to the pan. Sprinkle with the spices, garlic, pepper paste and ginger paste or powder. Saute for 3-4 minutes, adding 1/4 cup or more warm water or broth to the pan if it begins to get dry.
Sprinkle the shrimp, in a separate bowl, with salt-free seasoning and some hot sauce or chile paste.
When green beans are tender, in just a few minutes, drop the thawed shrimp into the mix, and stir until everything is warmed through. This should only take two or three minutes. Any longer, and you’ll end up with rubbery shrimp!
Sprinkle with salt, if needed, and stir in.
Serve over brown rice, grits, or whatever you like!
Stephanie Hill-Frazier is a writer, food blogger and regional television chef, whose on-air nickname is "Mama Steph". She grew up in Gulf County, on St. Joe Beach, a place she will forever call home.
She is married and has three young adult sons who are considerably taller than she is. You can find more of her recipes at WhatSouthernFolksEat.com.