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A Taste of Shrimp That Lasts A Lifetime

 

   Summertime meant large, succulent white shrimp at Salvador’s Market on West King Street and at Riverside Fish Camp on Vilano Beach if you happened to be around when P.J Manucy’s Hoonya unloaded its days catch.

   I was fourteen year’s old, living at the foot of the Vilano Beach Bridge in one of the white wooden cabins behind P.J. Sr’s. store on the north side of Highway AIA. If mama went to town with Sadie Manucy on Friday afternoon she always stopped by Salvador’s Seafood Market to buy fresh white shrimp. Seemed like we always had fish on Friday and I wasn't even Catholic back then.

   Mama was usually greeted by Felix Salvador who had funny things to say or worldly advice to offer if he wasn’t hollering at one of the help to bring more ice and put on top of the fresh seafood. He weighed the shrimp then dumped them on a foot-high stack of newspapers and quickly rolled them up. The newspapers were referred to as the “mullet wrapper”, but in our case it was also a shrimp wrapper.

   When mama returned from town, Richard, my younger brother and I, stood at the old, chipped porcelain sink and helped her peel the big shrimp. We usually stuck our finger with the sharp horn on the head of the shrimp a time or two during the process. Baby sister Lessie was too young to peel shrimp so she and her best bud Linda Manucy played dress-up with ladies clothes, hats and high heel shoes that belonged to Sadie.

   Mama deveined the shrimp and cut them precisely down on top to a certain depth so they would all curl up the same way and cook in just a few minutes. She used white lard to fry the shrimp in her one and only cast iron frying pan. All she added to the cracker meal was salt and pepper before she coated each shrimp. Mama had a way of holding the tail tight so that when she placed the lightly dusted shrimp on a piece of wax paper the tail was always clean and easy to pick up from the platter after they were fried and she said it was time to eat.

   There’s something special about St. Augustine white shrimp. The translucent shell is beautifully colored. The contrast of the dark eyes and reddish legs is prominent when you peel them. St. Augustine shrimp even smell good when they are raw. There is a slight sweet not pungent aroma when they are fresh. It must have been the clean ocean water and what they ate during their brief twelve months of life that gave them their superb taste.

  As good as the raw shrimp smelled, I have no words adequate to describe the heavenly odor of fresh shrimp frying in first lard - in a small room - in a small cabin - on Vilano Beach. I loved watching the shrimp pile up in the big plate she kept next to the pan. If Richard or I reached for a shrimp before mama put them on the table we either got a stern look or a tap on the hand with hot tongs. We were quick learners. It took me two years before I was smooth enough to hug her with one arm and slip a hot shrimp in my pants pocket with my free hand then walk outside to eat it. I  felt she smiled and knew exactly what I was doing

   When I have the chance to visit St. Augsutine and eat at Osteen’s, Lonnie Pomar’s shrimp have the flavor and aroma I fondly remember. I’m sure there are a few other places you can get genuine St. Augustine shrimp for a while longer, but when all the shrimp boats are gone so will the opportunity to enjoy a seafood experience that’s been available since St. Augustine offshore shrimping began in about 1922.

   Salvador’s Market is gone. Riverside Fish Camp is gone. The opportunity for me to eat shrimp in such a nostalgic setting is gone, but not forgotten. I would give anything to stand by that old stove in P.J.’s cabin watching mama’s iron skillet fry shrimp. Actually, there is nothing I wouldn’t give just to stand by Mama again.

 Bob Jones

August 31, 2011

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