By Shelly Detwiler
It was the summer of ’85. Tables were set, lobsters were boiled, sides were steaming, and the beautiful Lake Champlain provided the ambiance. A lobster boil was happening on the lakeside of North Hero House, North Hero Island, Vt. As a 20-year-old living the dream spending the summer in Vermont, it was my intro to the one pot dinner and a show experience. What an experience it was! It combined my love of entertaining, food and social all wrapped into one. It was food culture at its finest and I was in love.
Back in the day, these one pot meals were created as an easy way to feed a crowd with whatever you had on hand regionally. Today these regional feasts are one pot meals on steroids — part experience, part meal. Typically, these boils, bakes and roasts are made with seafood but take a look at the cowboy version as well. This is a perfect way to celebrate regional tastes at weddings, tailgates, graduations, and for no reason at all but fun.
Low country boil
The low country boil originated off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. No exciting story here except that it starts with the catch of the day such as shrimp, blue crab, and crawfish. It was and still is today an easy way to have everything ready to feed a crowd at the same time.
This sounds like the coolest thing to me. This New England old-fashioned traditional way of cooking dates back a couple hundred plus years. The Native Americans taught the newcomers how to cook food in a pit.
1. Find a beach.
2. Dig a pit 3-foot x 5- to 6-foot and line with large stones.
3. Build a fire and make coals.
4. Top coals with a 3-inch layer of seaweed
5. Pop on prepped lobster, clams, seafood, and veggies wrapped in cheesecloth and top with another layer of seaweed.
6. Drizzle with sea water. This helps create the steam.
7. Cover with sea water-soaked canvas and steam for 1.5 to 2 hours.
8. Dump the bag onto a canvas and enjoy the buffet.
The early settlers in Louisiana had little to their name so their backyard gatherings were everything. Crawfish abundant in swamps, marshes and bayous became the center of the gatherings of music, food, and celebration. Today 120 million to 150 million pounds of crawfish are produced and harvested in the state of Louisiana. The basic difference between a crawfish boil and low country boil is the crawfish, plus they kick it up a notch with some Cajun heat. Sweating included!
Fish boils are like the girl next door in Door County Wisconsin. Scandinavian fisherman and lumber jacks in remote areas used the fish boil as the easiest way to feed the lot of them. Today millions of guests visit Door County each summer to experience the drama of a 15-foot flame that acts as the dinner bell! Fish boils take a white firm fish such as halibut, bones and all and throw it in boiling water. The bones help keep it together. Potatoes are the other standard addition to the pot. The finale big flame creates the show of the water boiling over. Guests oohing and ahhhing over the sight miss the fact that this overflow helps loose bones, potato peels and other inedible pour over the side of the pot. Time to eat!
Cream can suppers
Unless you are from Nebraska cattle country, you have probably never heard of Cream Can Supper. My daughter-in-law comes from a ranch family in the sand plains of Nebraska and her mom clued me in on a cream can meal. Cowboys drove cattle north from Texas to the Ogallala railhead from 1870 to 1885. Millions of cattle mean lots of hungry cowboys. The trending way back in the day to feed a bunch of hungry cowboys was with a cream can meal. A cream can is layered with vegetables and meats and steamed over a fire. These suppers are still enjoyable today.
We’ve experienced a crawfish boil in the heart of Louisiana, a low country boil at a nephew’s wedding in Savannah and a lobster boil in Vermont. This house loves shrimp, and nobody does shrimp better than the low country. I mean these shrimp are huge! It makes you wonder if they are corn fed. We love to get some fresh shrimp and have us some low country boil with a little bit of fire. Spice that is. This month, invite some peeps over and find your new favorite way to feed your groupies.
Eat well and healthy,
Low Country Boil South Carolina
Fish Boil Wisconsin
Cream Can Supper Nebraska