The following is a post from a guest writer to the NERRds! This is the last installment in a five part series on oyster stories of northeast Florida.
Kaitlyn Dietz is currently the Coastal Training Program Specialist at the GTM Research Reserve. Kaitlyn attended Georgia College and State University for her B.S. degree in Biology (2012). Afterwards, she moved to Jacksonville to pursue her M.S. degree in Marine Science from Jacksonville University (2015). Her research focused on understanding relative foraging locations of loggerhead and green sea turtles using the carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes from eggshells. She has been at the GTM Research Reserve in many capacities including being an Environmental Educator under the Education sector, the Usina Oyster Intern under the Research sector, and the Oyster Condition Assessment data analyst under the Northeast Florida Aquatic Preserves.
Stories from the Shuck and Tell.
Didn’t catch the previous installment? Check it out here!
Hank Plona has kayaked through Salt Run since 1985. Across the years he has observed harvesters collecting oysters from the ocean side (east side) of Salt Run and often enjoys eating these [steamed] Salt Run oysters. Although Plona had not yet harvested himself, he understands the importance of water quality. As a crabber at the Guana Dam, Plona reflected on the number of blue crabs he used to catch only five years ago compared to the few that he catches now.
Although unable to attend the Shuck and Tell event, William Evenden from Palm Beach County provided stories. Evenden grew up in Jacksonville Beach and attended Fletcher High School. During the early 1950’s, Evenden and friends camped on the Guana Peninsula and looked for Indian pottery. At this time, the Guana Dam had not been built and access to the Guana Peninsula was by boat during high tide; during the dry season and low tide, they would drive through the grasses from the Mickler’s Pier. They were able to drive along the river banks that had several beach areas along the west banks. There were many oyster beds along the river beaches that Evenden and friends would harvest, crack, and eat raw. Evenden recalls also camping on the Shell Bluff side of the Guana Peninsula where there were plenty of oyster beds that he would often cut his hands on.
An aunt of close friend of Evenden, Charles Thomas, owned a restaurant on Fort Caroline Road, “Ponga”. Every evening, “Ponga” would serve fresh oysters that were prepared by a chef from New Orleans. The “Ponga” specialty was “Oysters a La Ponga” where the oysters were covered in parmesan cheese, butter, fine meal, and paprika, served on the half shell. The restaurant would get fresh oysters every day from Gene Johnson who had an oyster shack west of the bridge on the south side of the Matanzas Inlet. Evenden recalls that Gene Johnson would not only sell oysters, his wife would shuck and prepare oysters right in the shack. Unfortunately, the “Ponga” restaurant burned down in 1959; Charles would continue to prepare the oysters for friends like the restaurant did, but not long after he became concerned on contaminated oysters.
William Evenden ended his oyster stories with the following, “It is sad and unfortunate that pollution has destroyed so much in our lives, so that all we have is our memories of better times.”