By Pat Foster-Turley
March 10, 2023
Most Saturday mornings when I am home I make my usual local shopping rounds. I know there is a farmers market just off Centre Street, but that involves finding a place to park and integrating with crowds, not my favorite pastime. Instead, I procure my esoteric food supplies in other places.
For shrimp, there is always Martin, with his pickup truck parked on Eighth Street near Courson Road where signs of “wild caught” and “local shrimp” adorn the trunk of a nearby tree. Martin has been in the shrimping business for decades – and maybe his family for generations – who knows. But all I know is that the shrimp he sells comes directly from a local shrimp boat and is always fresh and tasty. I often buy a few pounds of shrimp, boil them up and peel them and then freeze the cooked shrimp for quick additions to meals whenever the craving for shrimp hits me. You can find Martin most Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings before he sells out. You better get there before noon just to make sure.
And then nearby on 14th Street is Jessica’s veggie and fruit stand where I can always pick up fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, grapefruit, and all kinds of other seasonal fruits and vegetables that she procures in the early morning from the Beaver Street farmer’s market in Jacksonville. Every time I visit Jessica’s stand I see something new and interesting that she has for sale. She opens up her stand by 10 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is usually open well into the afternoon – unless she is lucky, on Saturday – and sells most of her produce for an early weekend for her. On Saturdays, her grown kids Drew and Makala often help her, and regulars stop by to chat with them all, a real local gathering.
The Saturday stand next to Jessica’s is the Natural Springs Dairy, where Kayla or her mother from Hastings, Florida sells homemade cheeses, fresh goat milk, free-range eggs, kombucha tea and homemade preserves, and all kinds of other items. It has taken me a while to develop a taste for kombucha, but now I am a fan, buying it every week. It has probiotic components I know, but really I just like the taste. And, wow, their cheeses are wonderful.
If I really want to stock my freezer for the future, I make a stop at the Central American restaurant La Surena near the corner of Eighth Street and Atlantic Avenue, run by Maria and her family. I’ve been a fan of Maria’s ever since she opened her first shop years ago in a small strip mall on the island and I watched with joy as she expanded her business to its current location. Friday has always been “tamale day” for Maria and her staff when they make up a bunch of them. If I am lucky on Saturday they still have some left. Pork or chicken tamales, wrapped in banana leaves or corn husks, both are delicious. I freeze up a bunch of them and microwave one when I want a snack or a quick breakfast. And if I am running low on spices, you can’t beat the large selection of inexpensive ones available at La Surena. Perfect.
With my shopping done and loaded in a cooler, I often don’t return home right away. I usually take the “long way home” through Fort Clinch State Park. As longtime volunteers there, Bucko and I have access to the back gate and we often drive through the park on our way to, well, anywhere. On this recent Saturday I drove slowly through the park looking for the ever-present deer, then stopped at the lighthouse overlook parking area. I was not the only one there this day. For weeks now the word has been out about the great horned owls that are nesting in a tall live oak tree near this parking lot, and off and on this area is packed with people snapping photos with their cell phones, or aiming huge cameras at the nest to get the really good shots.
These owls have nested here from year to year and they seem oblivious to the crowds watching them with admiration from below. On this day a generous photographer had his long lens set up and was videoing the birds while enabling those around him to see these close-up views through his lens.
It takes me about an hour from start to finish to complete my Saturday shopping expedition although my happy conversations with my shop-owning friends can take a lot longer. And then cap it with a drive through Fort Clinch State Park. How lucky I am!
Pat Foster-Turley, Ph.D., is a zoologist on Amelia Island. She welcomes your nature questions and observations. [email protected]