When my husband and I were dating, we went fishing quite often. Amongst all our fishing gear, there was always a bag of Fritos. Salty, crispy, corn chips taste pretty good on a hot summer day with a cold drink. Fritos became so synonymous with fishing that something was amiss when a bag didn’t make it to the boat. What?!? Did you forget the Fritos?
When our oldest daughter was three – well over 20 years ago – on pleasant summer evenings, we would grab a bucket of fried chicken, and head out on the river to count wildlife. We didn’t visit big water but stayed in narrow shallow areas where we knew the chop was slight and the birds and fish were abundant. Cinched up comfortably in her lifejacket, she sat on the center seat of our Jon boat wide-eyed. Among our favorite sightings were a mother wood duck and 10 babies scooting along the shoreline, and an otter, spinning around in the water and eventually floating on his back while swimming away – one eye on us.
We visited many different rivers, the Tuckahoe, the Little Choptank, Town Creek, Goldsborough Creek, Tar Creek, Boone Creek, and the Tred Avon River, among others. Besides the necessaries like an anchor, paddles, a bailer, lifejackets and a thermos of water, a bucket of fried chicken became a staple, an essential part of the experience. After we had gone on a few rivers, I began to have her recite the list of items we would need to take and help put them in the boat. Once we had reviewed everything and made sure we had all the basics, she would tack on: “…and fried chicken.”
As our family grew, our boat got bigger – we had room for a large cooler, big enough for a whole day of adventure. For short trips of just a few hours – a watermelon on ice and a bag of Old Bay UTZ potato chips seemed appropriate. For a whole day of river escapades, our menu grew substantial enough to satiate the appetites of growing teenagers burning up calories tubing, swimming, kayaking and fishing. Yes, some days we did it all.
Last fall in a rare moment, my husband and I got out on the boat all by ourselves for a sunset cruise. We wore nice clothes. It was very quiet. There were no giant tubes or kayaks in the boat, but there was a cooler filled with cocktail foods: olives, almonds, blueberries, cheese and some Sauvignon Blanc. While it felt so grown up, it wasn’t as exciting as bending over a cooler in a bathing suit with a chef knife hacking into a watermelon and handing out uneven chunks of the sweet fruit to lively wet and sandy people. Nor was it as exciting as the tray of mini ham sandwiches with honey, apricot mustard on Hawaiian rolls passed around to fellow spectators on our boat while wildly cheering on junior sailors. I remember the nectarines and plums were perfectly juicy and ripe that day.
There is something about food on a boat that makes it special, especially if you share it with other people. No doubt it is the surroundings, the sun, water, wind and all the sensations of being on the river that play a role in such a fondness for place. Add taste to the mix and all the senses are involved. Associations are made and, in the end, there are just certain foods that make a day on the water even more exceptional than it already is.
Now that our children are older it isn’t often that we all get out on the boat together, but if we do, my first question for them is, “What would you like me to fix?” The Fourth of July is a boating day favorite for all of us. We are known for laying a clean beach towel across the back of the boat and setting out a boat buffet (this buffet area has dueled as a jumping platform for young swimmers). Favorites for this holiday include Texas caviar with lime tortilla chips, deviled eggs, BLT bow tie pasta salad, fruit salad, homemade fried chicken pieces (lovingly cooked in a cast iron skillet) with sweet and sour pineapple sauce and rum cake.
Be it boat, beach, or park by the river – a picnic by or on the water is very special. Not only does it make an experience distinctive, but it also makes for great wintertime conversation. “Remember that time we brought a fresh peach pie on the boat in August? Yeah, that was a great day.”
Tips for Packing Boat Food
- Make sure you have enough ice to keep items cold on long hot summer days.
- Stuff has a habit of blowing overboard, so consider items that would break down easily if lost to the sea – like Chinet paper plates. Avoid plastic wrappings and plastic silverware.
- Never underestimate the need for liquids in the summer. Lots of cold drinks on a hot day are essential. If you are trying to avoid plastic bottles, try a large, insulated water dispenser – they make them from one gallon to 5-gallon sizes and have everyone bring a reusable water bottle.
- Pack sanitary wipes or soap and water for cleanup of hands and surfaces before you eat.
- Remember to bring a trash bag.
- A mix of salty and sweet tastes just right.
Texas Caviar – serve with tortilla chips
2 – 15 oz cans of black-eyed peas, drained
1 lb. fresh chopped garden tomatoes
1 medium jalapeño, or Hungarian wax pepper, small dice
1/2 cup of sweet onion, small dice
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, small dice
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
6 TBS red wine vinegar
6 TBS olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp roasted garlic
2 TBS fresh oregano, fine chop
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Combine ingredients and refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving. Can be made a day ahead. Add additional seasonings according to your taste.
Sweet & Sour Pineapple Sauce – great with cold fried chicken
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 tsp oil (sunflower, olive, canola)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp roasted garlic
2 TBS cornstarch
2 TBS cold water
1 medium tomato, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
8 oz canned pineapple chunks, drain syrup
Heat sugar, water, vinegar, oil, soy sauce, salt, and garlic to boiling in saucepan (3 qt). Stir on medium heat occasionally until hot. Add cornstarch and water together and then stir into pan until sauce thickens. Stir in tomato pepper and pineapple and heat until boiling. Cool. Refrigerate before serving.
Cathy Schmidt writes from Trappe where she and her husband Chef Brian Schmidt own Garden and Garnish Catering. A food explorer, Cathy loves to garden and cook from scratch.