Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Mill Creek Oyster Festival

The central coast of North Carolina, Cape Lookout,
and the Morehead City-Beaufort resort area

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.

This is a dancing oyster, I think.

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.

Get your shore dinner here.

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.

Fried oysters, hushpuppies, baked beans, and cole slaw.

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.

Want a big Pepsi?

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.).

Joanna had a plate of fried spots.
She said they were " purty good."

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.

Roasting mass quantities of oysters for the Mill Creek festival.

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.

5 comments:

Cheryl said...

Sounds like quite an enjoyable day. And it was probably a nice way to spend time with your sister.

wcs said...

Having a good time... wish I was there.

Gabby Walters said...

The oysters looked yummy. I remember the Chincoteague oysters from southern Virginia. Recently I had some Wellfleet oysters on the half shell on Cape Cod. They reminded me of the French Belon. Obviously we know where Ken gets his love of good food from. Cheers. Gabby

mike sokolow said...

never been to the festival but the local oysters are good and the shell size deceiving, had to actually eat some as they say down east; " Haif in Two!"MMMM...MMMMM. some good eatin' Barney!

Newport River said...

The Millcreek Oyster Festival was organized by a few of the local families to help raise money for the volunteer fire department in this community.
Though the small family recipe arguments over the years never sparked any serious conflict during the festival, the recent restriction on oyster production on the east coast has put economic hardship on organizing such events.

The final end resulting in the festivals cancellation was due to the increased expense of purchasing out of state oysters.

I believe this is not a failure of nature, economics, or the communities ability to import oysters from elsewhere but a failure of local politics.
A failure to control pollution and regulate development.

There are burdening restrictions and regulations on shellfish harvesters in the north carolina fishing industry.
Most of these regulations do little to nothing for preserving, sustaining, or increasing the health of the marine environment.

Instead of controlling and regulating the storm drainage they just shut down rivers and make more restrictions on harvesting.
The regulators point at over-harvesting instead of the devastating pollution producing by industries which destroy the water quality of the rivers, creeks, and bays.

That's because there are larger under regulated industries involved with lobbying these fishing laws.

The local rivers in the area are bountiful enough with oysters to support local events but the regulations and restrictions on commercial fisherman have limited harvesting activities.

I believe local commercial fishing associations should bring litigation against the industries which have polluted the rivers over the years.

These types of laws which blame commercial fisherman have no constitutional foundation or merit and do nothing but destroy local communities who's economy and culture depends on commercial fishing activities.

-Bart
Newport River Company