In March of 2012, my step son returned from Folly Beach with the firm held conviction that he had witnessed first hand the presence of a sea monster. It was, in truth, a dinosaur, or at least one of the closest living relatives- an Atlantic sturgeon.
Sturgeon have evolved slowly in the 100 million years they have been on Earth, can live up to 60 years and get as large as 15 feet and 800 pounds. The bony plates that make up their heads make them look outright prehistoric.
Sturgeon still populate the Atlantic seaboard, and are occasionally seen here in SC. But at the turn of the 19th Century, as far back as 1881, sturgeon were plentiful. So much so that there was an established and pronounced sturgeon fishery in and around Georgetown, the Pee Dee River and Winyah Bay. Prized both as caviar and as a smoked delicacy, sturgeon supported a fishery here in SC for 100 years.
In the early 80’s, Chef Frank Lee was cooking forJose DeAnacleto at Restaurant Million, which would eventually become McCrady’s. He has shared with me a story of how fishermen used to try to sell him mason jars of Winyah Bay caviar.
South Carolina’s sturgeon population eventually declined due to overfishing, silting of the rivers and general habitat loss. Today, the Atlantic sturgeon is a protected species, and commercially available through aquaculturing.
On May 20th, Old Village Post House will feature sturgeon as a nod to our shared culinary history here in SC. As part of our Carolina Rice Kitchen dinner series and titled “Tables of the Reconstruction,” we will be discussing (and tasting) dishes stemming from the end of popular rice culture and the rise of modern agriculture.