Sunday, November 04, 2007
The Mill Creek Oyster Festival
Yesterday my sister and I drove up to the community of Mill Creek to have some seafood at the annual Mill Creek Oyster Festival. The festival is a benefit for the community's volunteer fire department.
Mill Creek is on the north bank of the Newport River in Carteret County, NC, just six or eight miles north of Morehead City as the gull flies. Driving there requires covering a much greater distance, since there is no bridge across the wider parts of the Newport River. Mill Creek is an unincorporated settlement with a population of a few hundred.
Actually, the Newport River is an estuary or a bay and its water is brackish if not salty. It is inhabited by oysters, clams, shrimp, and edible fish with names like croakers, spots, and hogfish. Those are the seafood specialties served at the annual oyster festival.
My sister and I didn't know quite what to expect when we decided to go to the festival yesterday afternoon. We thought there might be a lot of booths where people would be selling crafts, local food products, or even flea-market junk. It turned out there were just a few such booths, mostly selling jewelry and tee-shirts.
Mainly, there was food. You could buy a ticket to be served a fish plate ($4.00), a shrimp plate ($7.00), or an oyster plate ($9.00). All the seafood was breaded and fried, and the side dishes were baked beans (white beans in a sweet tomato sauce), cole slaw (raw cabbage salad in a mayonnaise dressing), and hushpuppies (fried cornbread). That's typical coastal North Carolina cooking. Beverages being sold were coffee (the thin American variety), sweetened iced tea, and soft drinks (Pepsi, Mountain Dew, etc.).
Oh, I almost forgot about the roasted oysters. For $15.00, you could get all the roasted oysters you could eat. In North Carolina, oyster roasts are an autumn treat. People build a fire under a big thick piece of metal or a grill set up on bricks or concrete blocks. They spread oysters on the metal or grill and cover them with wet burlap bags. If the bags seem to be drying out, they spray or douse them with water. The oysters get steamed and smoked under the burlap. You eat them with lemon juice, vinegar, or a hot cocktail sauce made with ketchup, vinegar, and horseradish.
The atmosphere was festive and many of the the signs were obviously hand-lettered by volunteers. It was all pretty rustic and rural. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed the food.
Posted by Ken Broadhurst at 9:10 AM