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Archive for March, 2013

Borrowed heading, (couldn’t come up with a better one)

Just as I got ready to set the hook, I look behind us just in time to see Keith come over the bow when the boat hit the cypress knee. His rented Jon Boat with the 10 horse outboard was moving faster than it should while trying to go around us in the narrow waterway leading into Billy’s Lake in the Okefenokee Swamp. From the looks of all of the boats that our crew had rented, hitting the knees were the norm rather than the exception. The bow on every boat was dented in several places. As for Keith, it took all of one-one hundredth of a second to get back in the boat. We had seen several pairs of eyes, (about 10 inches from eye ball to eye ball), in that winding water trail. While we were no strangers to the Suwannee, there are very few gators to worry about on our part of the river about 40 miles west of here. However, the swamp was full of them.

The trip was planed like many of our other day trips. “Let’s go fishing in the swamp,” came from someone one day and early Saturday morning we did. We had heard about the Fliers, better known as “Government Brim,” a highly sought after pan fish due to their superior taste, and the 12 inch Warmouths that get up to two pounds in that swamp. Yep, we had visions of a fish fry coming up soon. We followed 441 up to Fargo, then 177 to the dead end, where we rented the boats, and the six of us headed into the swamp two to a boat. I was with my long time fishing buddy Michael. Keith was with Richard and Jeff and Craig were together.

We caught fish alright, but not the kind to take home. I have memories of hooking onto a fish that fought as hard as any that I have seen, only to get it to the boat and find a Bowfin on the line. Better known as mudfish and not fit to eat. Someone said that you cook it on a board and when done, throw the fish away and eat the board. And the swamp was full of some very large ones. While it was fun catching these Jurassic air breathers, our cooler stayed empty.

It wasn’t long before we learned something else. Because they had sharp teeth and would bite you when trying to unhook them, we would try to shake them off in the water and that created another problem. The mudfish thrashing in the water attracted even larger prey, or should I say predators. Did I mention the swamp was full of gators? Well, it is. With our six lines in the water, we had creating a feeding frenzy amongst them. At first it was kind of fun. You would catch a mudfish and then with the mudfish catch a gator. The gator would twist around and around trying to break the fish loose all the while you are trying to hang onto to your rod and reel. Most times the line would break trying to reel him to the boat. At some point someone said, “Man look at all those eyes, they are everywhere.” Boy was he right. Everywhere we look we could see the eyes looking at our boats. They had us surrounded. I hadn’t seen that many gators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.

At that point we all thought that we had better leave. While it wasn’t our intention to feed them, I believe they thought we did and called all their neighbors to the table. I also had the feeling that if another one of us had went over the bow, they would be waiting.

This was memory building at its best. Everyday is a holiday and every meal a picnic…

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Eating out down south and other stuff.

Hey y’all, I don’t know about you, or where you live, but I have to believe that you love living where you do as much as I love living in the south. And for me, that happens to be in a small southern county in North Florida, with only three stop lights. You don’t get much smaller than that. It is also true that down here we say ma’am and we say please. Now, I’m sure you have read about all the southern jargon, and how to speak southern stuff that flies over the internet too. Well, believe it or not, we do speak that way, especially around each other. “Bless his heart and she’s precious,” are used daily, and supper is our evening meal. Yes, our language is a little different but it defines us, as much as our geography. Even North Florida is different than Central and South Florida. In my neck of the woods our four seasons are spring, lots of summer, fall and a little winter. Farther south and it is hurricane season, love bug season, tourist season and summer, and they speak a mix of everything else.

To really understand the south, you would have to eat with us a few times. The only thing that would define us more than the language and geography would be our cuisine. A Meal in the south is an event. It’s a social event at that. In nearly all small southern town restaurants there is a long table (or two), that are community tables, or what is sometime referred to as the “Liars table.” It is open for anyone wanting to join the conversation of the moment while eating. In our small town of Jasper, we have such a place at H&F Restaurant, or what we lovingly call the “Hog Trough.” Even our fast food restaurant, Hardees, has a community round table.

The buffet is always the same at the trough, which is comfort food at its best. Breakfast will be sausage and thick slab bacon, with fried eggs, grits, biscuits and/or toast. There would be pancakes and cane syrup to top off the meal. The person sitting beside you may be the judge, police chief, a farmer, construction worker, retired people, (lots of them), merchants, deputies and well, you name it. Lunch is always the same, with fried chicken, dressing, lima beans, mash potatoes and gravy. There would be okra and tomatoes to put over the rice, and don’t forget the turnip greens and cornbread. You top all that off with bread pudding, which H&F is famous for. I have mostly sworn off sweets, but if I go there I will have that pudding.

On Friday nights a lot of the local restaurants will have a seafood buffet. Which in the south means there would be mullet, catfish, tilapia, shrimp, and in some more uptown restaurants, grouper, crab cakes and clams. Mullet is the favorite fish in these parts, with catfish a strong second. If folks have a fish fry, these are the top two. A real good restaurant will have the mullet backbone on the buffet also. That is where you find the sweetest succulent meat. The trimmings will be cheese grits, cold slaw, and sweet potato fries, topped off with mounds of hushpuppies and guava jelly. I have heard a lot of stories about how hushpuppies came about, but I believe they were invented only to eat with guava jelly. No other jelly works better on the puppies. I have been to restaurants when they were out, and seen jars of the stuff come out of purses.

Sweet potatoe fries? Yes ma’am, it has only been in the last few years that older southerners have switch to them over the white ones. We’ve been told that it will not run up your blood sugar like white potatoes. On the other hand we grow the better ones down here, so it was natural to switch. Everything is topped off with peach cobbler and washed down with ice cold sweet tea or offee. Other Deep South specialties may include barbecue chicken, pork butt and ribs. We love our BBQ.

Yep, southern living is great. It’s a feeling you won’t find elsewhere, where loyalties, tradition and yes, hardship bind us together like no where else. Hugs and smiles are the standard greeting and yes, we do cling to our God and guns here. Hunting is a second language here, even if you don’t hunt, and Sunday worship is a given, not something you have to think about doing. They don’t call it the Bible belt for nothing. Only ‘Sunday-go-to-meeting’ outfits have changed some. I have worn flip flops and shorts to church on Wednesday Night. The people that attend are not just someone with like faith, but people that you like to spend time with. On any given Sunday night after church, someone would ask, “Where are we going to eat after church tonight?” Someone might suggest, “Lets go to the Red Onion,” which was fine with my wife, BJ, because she had a slice of their ten layer Chocolate Cake on her mind. So, sometimes upwards of 20 of us would leave and ride over to Jimmy’s Truck Stop and pile in the restaurant, and enjoy country cooking and great fellowship.

So, y’all come on down and enjoy our southern hospitality you hear, and we might even set a spell on the porch and rock awhile. We got a glass of ice cold sweet tea or coffee for you. . Bless your heart, we will not even bore you by reciting lines from Gone with the Wind either, we could you understand, but wouldn’t do that to you…

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