Taste of the OBX: Fall Food Traditions


Taste of the OBX Fall Food Traditions

Have you ever wondered about the fall food traditions of days past on the Outer Banks of North Carolina? What images come to mind?

If you conjure up images of oyster roasts, homemade corn bread, fried and salted fishes, clam chowders and fish stews, you're on the right track.

Coastal Bounty

Historically, the Outer Banks region is known for its abundance of seafood, and rightfully so with the veritable pantry found nearby in the Roanoke Sound. Oysters, drum, herring, mullet, and speckled trout are among the favorites.

Shrimp? Not so much. They were a nuisance that got caught up in fishing nets, and and often referred to as a "bug", not something desirable to eat (until about the 1950s or so with the availability of motor boats and refrigeration). They were useful for trade, though. The inland farmers used shrimp as fertilizer, so it made a good trade for corn for the Bankers. They dried the corn on old sails spread over their porch roofs, then took it to one of the dozen windmills that dotted the Outer Banks to be ground into cornmeal.

Food Traditions on the OBX

Old timers recall having fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner; not exactly three times a day, but close. Winter was mainly salted fish (salting being the prime means for preservation at the time) and herring when it was running.

Most everyone had access to potatoes and onions, which they were able to keep in dry storage. So it makes sense that staple meals included chunks of fish boiled with potatoes and onions along with fried salted pork (more on that later).

Where's the Beef?

Cattle did roam the northern end of the Outer Banks for about two centuries beginning in the 1600s, but ended up being flushed to the beaches during the summers and herded to the sound to be rounded up and sold at the markets in Virginia. Bankers rarely slaughtered beef because it was difficult to keep fresh and preserve before the invention of refrigeration. It simply wasn't worth the effort.

Apparently Orville Wright was not too impressed with the livestock during his stint on the Outer Banks. At the time when the Wright Brothers were working on their experimentation in flight, Kill Devil Hills was pretty remote and desolate. In the early 1900s, Kitty Hawk only had one merchant, and Nags Head was miles away and accessible only by a sandy pathway or by boat.

"I have just stopped a minute to eat a spoonful of condensed milk. No one down here has any regular milk. The poor cows have such a hard time scraping up a living that they don’t have any time for making milk,” he wrote. "You never saw such pitiable looking creatures as the horses, hogs, and cows are down here. The only things that grow fat are the bedbugs, mosquitoes, and wood ticks."

~Orville Wright in one of his letters to home.

To add insult to injury, the livestock were almost completely wiped out by a couple of hurricanes in the 1930s. Then grazing on the dunes was outlawed and any remaining cattle were removed.

If you have ever wondered why traditional Carolina clam chowder doesn't contain cream, now you know why! Even on the mainland, Dare County only had one dairy up until 1945 when another one opened in Manteo. Even then, that one only had six cows.

The Other White Meat

Pigs also roamed the Outer Banks and families often shared what was available. Hung hams and salted pork were the mainstays. Salted pork was a staple used to flavor fried fish, cornbread and chowders.

As "summer people" began to visit the Outer Banks seasonally, they brought with them chickens, hogs and even milking cows. The chickens were cooped, but the hogs and cows roamed free.

That latticework you see on many of the traditional OBX beach cottages was actually used to keep the livestock out from under the shade of the house, along with their accompanying flies, fleas and ticks. Who knew?

Fall Food Traditions on the OBX

Are you looking to learn more about the food traditions of the Outer Banks? Experience it for yourself at Island Farm's Fall Foodways. This makes for the perfect post-Thanksgiving living history lesson and family outing.

Come out to the farm after Thanksgiving (Friday, November 27 and Saturday, November 28) from 10a.m. to 4p.m. and see how Roanoke Island families prepared for winter during the 1850s with demonstrations of hearth cooking, food preservation, candle making and more. Take an ox-drawn wagon ride while you're there.

Admission for Fall Foodways at Island Farm is $8 per person; children ages 5 and under are admitted for free. Bring a nonperishable food item and receive $1 off! Get a discount while helping out the local community. Goods will be donated to the Roanoke Island Food Pantry.

Your Own Taste of the OBX

Now that you're left drooling for a taste of the Outer Banks, why not try a few of our favorite Outer Banks restaurants on your next visit. Enjoy your favorite dish or try something new.

You can also make an authentic local favorite at your own home or in your OBX vacation rental. Check out this traditional Hatteras Island Clam Chowder recipe! It's sure to give you a taste of the Outer Banks and keep you coming back for more.

Hatteras Island-Style Clam Chowder

Ingredients:
Little neck clams are considered the best. They’re the smallest and are thought to be the most tender. Whether it’s a little neck, cherrystone, top neck or quahog, they’re all the quahog species of clam. It’s just a question of size.

If going for fresh, about 100 little neck will be needed. Chowder clams (top neck) are larger.
4 cup(s) shucked clams and juice (about 24 chowder clams)
3 cup(s) diced potatoes
2 cup(s) diced onions
1 cup(s) water
6 piece(s) bacon, fried and grease rendered

Preparation
Chop clams, drain juice and save it. In a large pot, add water, clam juice, potatoes, onions and grease. Bring to a boil until potatoes are tender crisp. Add chopped clams and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Many recipes call for sautéing the onion in the bacon grease first. Classically only salt and pepper are used to season this.

- See more at: http://www.carolinadesigns.com/blog/hatteras-island-style-clam-chowder/#sthash.QgOPENig.dpuf

Hatteras Island Clam Chowder

Ingredients:Clams on the Outer Banks

4 cups shucked clams and juice (approximately 24 chowder clams/top neck or 100 little neck clams)

3 cups diced potatoes

2 cups diced onions

1 cup water

6-8 pieces of bacon, fried, drippings rendered and reserved

salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Chop the clams, drain the juice and reserve it. In a large pot, add in the water, clam juice, potatoes, onions, reserved bacon drippings, salt and pepper. (Note: An alternative is to sauté the onions in the reserved bacon drippings first before adding the remaining above-mentioned ingredients. The choice is yours. Do what you like!) Bring to a boil and simmer until potatoes are barely fork tender (about 15 minutes). Add in the chopped clams, reduce the heat and simmer for another 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper if needed. Serve piping hot.

Seems pretty simple and straightforward, right? That's because the simplest things are often the best. Of course there are variations to this recipe and you can modify it to suit your preferences. You can add carrot and celery to the mix. You can also add thyme and bay leaves to add a more herbaceous flavor to your chowder. They of course would not be traditional, as sandy soil isn't the best for growing a wide variety of crops, but that's okay. Feel free to thicken it up, if you so desire, with a couple tablespoons of cornmeal to add some bulk.

Whether you stick to tradition or create your own style based on the original, this crowd favorite it sure to please. It's perfect served up with some skillet cornbread, or it's hearty enough to stand on its own. It's a wonderful way to warm up on a chilly autumn day!

Hatteras Island-Style Clam Chowder

Ingredients:
Little neck clams are considered the best. They’re the smallest and are thought to be the most tender. Whether it’s a little neck, cherrystone, top neck or quahog, they’re all the quahog species of clam. It’s just a question of size.

If going for fresh, about 100 little neck will be needed. Chowder clams (top neck) are larger.
4 cup(s) shucked clams and juice (about 24 chowder clams)
3 cup(s) diced potatoes
2 cup(s) diced onions
1 cup(s) water
6 piece(s) bacon, fried and grease rendered

Preparation
Chop clams, drain juice and save it. In a large pot, add water, clam juice, potatoes, onions and grease. Bring to a boil until potatoes are tender crisp. Add chopped clams and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Many recipes call for sautéing the onion in the bacon grease first. Classically only salt and pepper are used to season this.

- See more at: http://www.carolinadesigns.com/blog/hatteras-island-style-clam-chowder/#sthash.QgOPENig.dpuf

Hatteras Island-Style Clam Chowder

Ingredients:
Little neck clams are considered the best. They’re the smallest and are thought to be the most tender. Whether it’s a little neck, cherrystone, top neck or quahog, they’re all the quahog species of clam. It’s just a question of size.

If going for fresh, about 100 little neck will be needed. Chowder clams (top neck) are larger.
4 cup(s) shucked clams and juice (about 24 chowder clams)
3 cup(s) diced potatoes
2 cup(s) diced onions
1 cup(s) water
6 piece(s) bacon, fried and grease rendered

Preparation
Chop clams, drain juice and save it. In a large pot, add water, clam juice, potatoes, onions and grease. Bring to a boil until potatoes are tender crisp. Add chopped clams and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Many recipes call for sautéing the onion in the bacon grease first. Classically only salt and pepper are used to season this.

- See more at: http://www.carolinadesigns.com/blog/hatteras-island-style-clam-chowder/#sthash.QgOPENig.dpuf

If you'd like to read more about the history of food and food traditions on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, click here.

What's your family's favorite Outer Banks food tradition?