Disappearing Tangier Island
Tangier Island is a small island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. It is disappearing due to a change in climate. This post is not about climate change, but the loss of a unique community and culture.
Tangier Island has a rich history dating back to the 1770s when settlers from England made the island their home. They started out as farmers; however, they found harvesting crabs and oysters more profitable. The island is now known for their blue crabs and having one of the most productive fleets in the region… and their distinct accent.
It has been said that the accent is derived from a 17th Century English lexicon and phonetics. It reminds me of the dialect of North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks. To my ear, it sounds faintly like Welsh or Irish. Many think it sounds like pirate talk. I have not met many 17th Century pirates so I can not confirm it. It is a waterman accent based on the isolation of the sea living on an island can do. Though with the influx of tourists and access to radio/TV/Internet, the accent is becoming less pronounced. The accent is not disappearing as fast as Ocracoke for the fact that more outsiders are moving to the Outer Banks to live and accents are intertwining.
It is a beautifully stark place. Windswept. Battered by the waters of the Chesapeake Bay for thousands of years. You can stand anywhere on the island and all you can see is water; no land in sight. The island is only 1.2 sq mi (3.2 km2) with about 700 full-time residents who are mostly watermen and those who support them. Tourism is popular, but crabbing is the main driver.
When you step off the ferry, you move to a different beat. A slower beat. The roads are narrow and are not paved. As you walk around the island you can hear the crushed oyster shells under your feet. Bikes and golf carts are the modes of transportation. Only a handful of cars on the island and honestly I am trying to figure out how they got there since the ferry service only carries people.
When the captain says be back at a certain time, then be back by that time or you will be spending the night or hope that either the supply boat or mail boat is there. There are only a couple of ferries coming from both Virgina and Maryland. Once they leave for the day, then that is it. Lucky there are a few B&Bs on the island and there are a few who do spend the night. We were there when the supply boat came in and unloaded. Golf carts were lined up to get their items ordered. While the island is a tourist attraction, daily life goes on around the tourists.
Crabs, Crabs, and More Crabs
The thing that makes Tangier Island famous is everywhere: crabs. Crab pots. Live crabs. Crab remains.
The Crab Cakes
You can not come to the island and not have crab cakes. And I love a good crab cake. We had lunch at the Hilda Crockett’s Chesapeake House. It is an all-you-can-eat family-style dining experience. I enjoy that experience. It is fun to talk to folks from all over visiting for the day. It is simple country dinner fare. The crab cakes are the star of the meal and if you keep eating them, the ladies will keep bringing them out to you. They are the size of baseballs. Also, clam cakes are served.
Tangier Island is worth a day visit to explore the island and culture.
Boiled Peanuts are an NC specialty.
Unless you are from eastern North Carolina then you most likely have never heard of boiled peanuts. They are a well-kept secret. It is a very seasonal and local specialty. You know it is that time of year when stands pop up all over the backroads of eastern North Carolina. The peanuts are sold out of pickup trucks. Some are well-oiled operations with tents and boilers while others are just a pickup truck with plastic bags of the warm peanuts. There are no worries about them getting cold since they are sold out quickly. People just know. And they just crave them regardless of age, gender, race, or economic status. It is a comfort food.
Now, most folks from eastern North Carolina are skeptical about anyone not from there liking it. They will raise an eyebrow at you if you are lacking the correct accent. That said, they will gladly share and talk to you about boiled peanuts. Though they are pretty sure you are not going to like it. It is nice to prove them wrong.
What are Boiled Peanuts?
All boiled peanuts are not created equal. Having lived in Tarboro, North Carolina, I have only eaten what I would call eastern-style. All the locals will firmly tell you that if it is from anywhere else it is just plain wrong and that those folks are not doing it correctly. Tarboro is in Edgecombe County just off I-95. It is a rural community where peanuts, cotton, and tobacco are the main cash crops. In fact, much of the peanuts you eat at baseball games come from eastern North Carolina and southern Virgina.
Not to embarrass anyone so I will just get it out of the way. Peanuts come from the ground like potatoes and other root vegetables. They are not from bushes. Honestly, unless I lived in Tarboro, I never would have known where peanuts came from. And yes I am educated and have traveled the world. Just never crossed my mind.
What makes boiled peanuts special in eastern North Carolina is the peanuts are new green peanuts. Other regions in the United States South dry the peanuts then boil them. Apparently, it changes the texture and taste. And as the Edgecombe County folks say it is not as good as their way. (Word of advice, never challenge someone from North Carolina about pork BBQ and boiled peanuts because you are going to lose. They are passionate and proud about their food culture.)
Everyone has their own way of preparing them like most comfort foods. They are simple to make: green peanuts in the shell, water, and salt. That is it. The secret is the ratio of water to salt. And that takes practice.
There are two ways of enjoying the peanuts. You just put one in your mouth then crack the shell and sucking out the peanut and juice. Or my preferred way, crack the peanut out with your nails. Eat it like you would an oyster with the slurping and all. You have to have the salty juices. I was unable to keep myself neat with salted peanut juices running down my arm… and ok my chin. It was not a dignified affair. After a bunch my fingers became wrinkly. Well worth it. Best not to eat in public until you have the form down or like me you will look a sight.
Go Ahead and Try Them
I am not going to fib to you, but it is an acquired taste and I rather like it. It only took me seven years of living in Tarboro in Edgecombe County to try them. I was always too late and would miss the small window they are available. It is worth giving it a taste. So if you are traveling the backroads of eastern North Carolina then stop and buy a bag for some local flavor.
It is worth giving it a taste. So if you are traveling the backroads of eastern North Carolina then stop and buy a bag for some local flavor.