Our Extraordinary Hometowns: Colington Island, North Carolina
The wonderful article below by Rosie Hawthorne, the winner of our “What’s Extraordinary in Your Hometown?” Essay Contest. Rosie’s description of the seafood bounty of Colington Island had our mouths watering and had us wishing we were close enough to hear the lapping waves of the ocean with the sea wind in our hair.
I live on Colington Island, a barrier island off the northeastern coast of North Carolina. And I love it here. It’s a fishermen’s village with the best and freshest seafood available.
What is extraordinary about my “town” is this abundance of seafood. I have exquisite availability year-round and can throw crab pots into the canal right off my bulkhead to bring in a wealthy catch, when in season.
When I meander Colington Road, from either of the two parallel roads—Beach Road and the Bypass—to my home on the Island, I first stop at Billy’s Seafood and pick out blue crabs, soft shells, tuna, grouper, red snapper, drum, flounder, shrimp, oysters, clams, all depending on the season.
I come home with seafood and we feast.
In April and May, in the evenings, when I drive the 3.8 mile road to my little island, I pass numerous crab shedders, waiting on the soft shells. The way soft shelling works is a rare piece of art.
The watermen have water-sluicing troughs, with marquee lights running above. They have been out the evening before to bait their cages, and then they’re out before dawn to harvest the crabs.
This is their life. Precarious and dependent on the elements. It’s in their blood.
They come in with the crabs, set them in the troughs, watch them, and wait. They wait all night long. They wait for them to molt. These watermen stay up all night, watching the crabs. Watching the troughs. Waiting. Waiting for the crabs to shed their tight, burgeoning, hard shells.
Then these watermen pull the naked crabs—the soft shells- out, and line them up in boxes for transport. Mostly to NYC. But a decent amount of them make it to my table.
Starting in November, the oysters come in. We usually go through 5 or 6 bushels of oysters a season. And we make them every which way—raw, steamed, battered and fried, and grilled or broiled.
So many different ways—Oysters Rockefeller, Oysters Casino, Oysters Hawthorne—you name it. Mornay sauce, Mr. Hawthorne’s canned salsa ranchera, and my all-time favorite—the grill sauce from Lucky Twelve Tavern on the beach road at Mile Post 12—a heady combination of melted butter, grated Parmesan cheese, hot Hungarian paprika, and sugar.
The seafood is what is extraordinary about where I live. I’m a cook. A good cook. And I rely on the bounty of Northeastern North Carolina to feed us. Over the years of living here, we have developed a network of seafood purveyors—shrimpers, crabbers, oystermen, scallopers, and my own two boys, who have fishing in their blood. It’s life on the Outer Banks.
It’s what sustains us—our seafood of Colington Island.