“You know why they call ‘em hush puppies?”- My Dad
“At the end of the fish fry, when the dogs are howlin’ and beggin’, the chef rolls a few balls from the remaining batter. He fries ‘em up, throws ‘em to the dogs, and says ‘Hush puppies!’”-My Dad
The pomegranates were so ripe they were splitting open on the trees, and after finding a nice patch of wild grape with my buddy Alex, I could resist no more. It was time to get foraging!
The Ph.D. program has been very time consuming, so I have not been posting nearly as much this quarter. That being said, I got to the point last weekend where I just really couldn’t read another page of anthropological theory…so I decided to check out my new foraging zone.
I would far rather support my local COOP grocer than Safeway, but as I was already in their parking lot picking up some hooks and sinkers from the local fishing shop, I stopped into the Safeway for some bait. They looked at me like I was nuts when I requested squid. No luck. But they had prawns. I don’t ever buy prawns because it is one of the least sustainable fisheries in the world (and the farmed varieties pollute the ocean way too much!) But, I needed bait, so I asked the butcher for two. “Two pounds commin up” he said. “No,” I replied with a chuckle, “Two prawns.” He looked at me with the same blank stare…like I was crazy. “What are you doin with two prawns?” he asked perplexed. “Goin fishin!” I replied with a grin.
I found a nice spot on the Sacramento River with a jagged cobble bottom. The opposite river bank was heavily wooded. In the evening sun the calls of nesting red tailed hawks could be heard echoing into the distance. As I cast my bait out to a slack pool behind a riffle, I began to hear splashing up river. I thought it was a fish at first…maybe a fall run salmon…but soon a little furry form climbed out onto the river bank.
As my eyes strained to identify its distant form, another popped its head out of the water and slammed a broad flat tail on the surface of the stream so loud the first animal jumped into the air and then back into the water where they proceeded to play. Beavers! These were the first wild beavers I have ever seen in California. The day was already off to a good start.
After a time I started getting impatient so I wedged the handle of the fishing rod into the rocky bank and swam out looking for crawdads. I found about 10, but the current was so fast I didn’t get a single one. I was even more disheartened when I didn’t come across a single fish! I was starting to think I had picked the wrong spot.
Then, just as I had one foot out of the water while the other was still in my fin’s foot pocket, my fishing rod flew out of its mooring through the air towards the river. Luckily I was in between the pole and the water and it landed straight in my hand! I was momentarily in awe. With a quick look around I thought “Come on! Somebody had to have seen that!” But there was no one without fur or feathers to witness my ninja instincts. My daze was instantly broken when I felt those distinctive tugs! “Fish On!” I hollered aloud to the beavers on the far bank.
The fight was pretty fun (I had admittedly forgotten how pleasurable a little H&L in fresh water could be), and soon I swooped in with my Grandpa’s old net and held up my first ever catfish!
That night I made up a batch of wild grape-pomegranate-habañero sauce and got to filleting and frying. We had a batch of hush puppies and golden brown beer-battered fish cutlets in no time flat.
Dinner was a simple southern classic- Catfish Po boy’s. And they were well received. With a little drizzle of freshly foraged spicy reduction sauce and I was in freshwater angler heaven!
Well, I have been praying for rain (this has been the driest January-November in 100 years in California) and today my prayers were answered! Wish us luck, because I smell mushrooms on the horizon!
Keep the old ways alive!