By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
I was a nerd as a child. Hell, I am a nerd now, so I guess not much has changed. I adore history.
When I step off the plane and make my way to the French Quarter, or St. George Street in St. Augustine, or a castle in Heidelberg, or Captain Cook’s Cove, I immediately wax nostalgic on my childhood.
You see, I was in a documentary on television about the surrender at Guilford Courthouse, the turning point of the Revolutionary War. I was also in a Nissan commercial when I was 10, wearing a tall bearskin hat while playing the drum. Oh, I was in my glory, believing that the girls would flock after a TV star like me, but much to my chagrin, that did not happen.
I was a nerd.
My parents, also nerds (God rest their souls), signed some of us up (they had a gaggle of children) to participate in a revolutionary reenactment group, and I believe the unit was Ferguson’s Company, 4th Battalion, Royal Artillery if memory serves me correctly.
What did this mean for my brothers and me? Well, it certainly meant that the bullies had open season on us as we “stood guard” at the State House during Christmas ceremonies (with fully functional muskets, mind you). And, when Christmas break was over, you can bet that they did not let it rest upon returning to school.
But, what it offered us as a consolation was unfettered access to black powder, 3-pound cannons, aforementioned muskets and flintlock pistols. Perhaps more shockingly, it gave us the opportunity to melt lead and make our own musket balls. Yes, we were licking the lead paint on the walls and our parents were not a bit concerned about it.
My father was a huge history buff and my mother followed suit. While all of us eight children enjoyed history in varying degrees, my brother Danny was the one who clinged to my dad when it came to reading book after book on American wars, and Danny and I “served” the longest in Ferguson’s.
Fast forward 38 years and I still remember wearing the heavy wool coats and tricorn hats in the middle of the summer, ready to pass out at a moment’s notice. That bearskin hat was a monster as well, and as skinny as I was (think railroad track), it was amazing that I did not fall over from being so top heavy.
I reminisce the days and nights “in camp,” eating stews made with a thousand spices, a tribute to the era when many spices were used to mask the taste of the rotten meat. I fondly remember my first cup of coffee out of a tin pot and tin cups. It was horrible, but I drank it nonetheless, and as I write today, I enjoy a cup o’ joe out of the French press; a tad fancier than the tin pot of days of yore, and much more delicious.
Growing up “nerd” evoked a lifetime of curiosity in terms of history. As I mentioned before, when I travel, I prefer to find the more-historical than not. I am fine staying at a lavish resort in the Bahamas or Hawaii or Costa Rica, but I also want to spend my days checking out the reefs and ancient villages. I want to see the volcanoes after whom gods and goddesses are named. And I want to eat the food.
There is nothing worse than traveling overseas and watching fellow Americans head straight to an American fast-food chain. Bro, you just got off the plane. Are you already that homesick?
When I travel, I eat local; poi in Hawai’I (I have yet to have one that I enjoy), scorched conch in Nassau, schnitzel in Germany and gallo pinto in Costa. And it is no different in New Orleans.
Keeping with the 200-year-old tradition, I always eat the gator. I even just had it recently in Florida (gator is a southern thing).
Get some gator, cook it up and eat it. Revel in the history, knowing that to study food without studying history is a monumental waste of time for us nerds.
Fried Alligator Bites
1# Alligator meat (whole or chunks)
2 c. Buttermilk
2 Tbsp. Paul Prudhomme Redfish
1 Tbsp. Trimix (Kosher salt, granulated garlic and black pepper)
2 c. All-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. Additional Prudhomme seasoning
Oil for frying
1 c. Duke’s Mayonnaise
Juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp. Adobo sauce from Chipotles
Trimix to taste
• Clean the gator and cut into chunks.
• Place in buttermilk, and add redfish seasoning and trimix.
• Allow to sit for at least an hour, preferably a couple hours. The acid and enzymes in the buttermilk will help to tenderize the meat.
• Combine flour and additional redfish seasoning in a bowl, and heat the oil to 350F.
• When you are ready to go, remove some gator from the marinade and shake it off, adding the chunks to the flour.
• Coat and carefully place in the frying oil, ensuring that the oil does not get too hot.
• Fry until golden brown and cooked through.
• Remove to a paper towel and prepare the sauce by combining the mayonnaise, lemon juice, adobo sauce and trimix.
• Serve with the sauce and a couple lemon wedges and bask in the old traditions of the South.
—Paul Suplee is a Professor of Culinary Arts at
Wor-Wic Community College and owner of
boxcar40 and boxcar on main.
Visit him at www.boxcar40.com;