Adventures in Florida's Sea Garden
Every summer our family heads to Steinhatchee Florida for a week of scalloping off the Gulf coast with a group of families and friends. We began this escapade about five years ago when the kids were young, about four and six, and have looked forward to going in search of scallops ever since. Best to start them early when mastering the finer points in the skill of the hunt.
Hunt? Scallops? How does one actually go about catching a scallop, anyway?
Ah…so you’ve never hunted scallops before—well sit tight—you’re in for a treat! Not only is snorkeling the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico gobs of fun for all ages, but securing your treasure trove of scallops is an exhilarating thrill, one you can enjoy with your kids.
But try to contain your excitement and pay attention when the kids catch their first one. If given the chance, scallops will bite. Pinch, snap their clam shell closed on your finger, whatever you want to call it, you get the picture. It hurts! My first scream was cause for alarm to those around me but they soon realized it was a mere case of “operator error” (not paying attention to the live creature in my hand) and began to ignore my squeals—painful, excited, and otherwise.
Now teaching your child to scallop is like a dolphin teaching her calf to fish. Glued to your side, the youngster swims along, observing your every move, watching for signs of scallops. You point them out and the child looks at you as if, “Really, you want me to go down there? I don’t think so.”
Eventually, they’ll begin to make quick dashes for each and every scallop they see—but you’d better not venture too far from their sight else you be met by a different kind of shriek! No more watching shark week prior to scalloping.
Depending on conditions, finding scallops can be tricky. As you swim along the surface, you’ll search for beady blue eyes peering up at you through murky green water, hidden between the sway of scaly green sea grass. When you spot one, you dip down, reach your hand into the thick ground cover and grab the little fella! Some will make it easier on you by resting atop clumps of seaweed caught in the grass, in addition to reducing the fear factor of poking your hand into the unknown.
Remember: you are out in the wild of nature. Of course if you’re lucky, you’ll see the scallops “swimming” above the fray—snap, snap, snap—as they whisk through the water taunting “Catch me if you can!”
Which is harder than you think. Sound fun yet? Didn’t think so. Here, I’m a writer. Let me try again. There you are…snorkeling in the warm calm waters off Florida’s coast, enjoying a day of sunshine and saltwater with your kids. As you float across the water’s surface, you delight in the shimmer of sunlight below, flowing across soft blades of sea grass like the undulating ribbons of light seen in Alaska’s Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. It’s an incredible sight to behold.
Perhaps you’re enjoying the day with your man, scanning the terrain side by side, feeling like a lioness huntress in Africa, on the prowl for any sign of prey hidden in the grassy savanna. You’ll know them by the fluorescent blue of their eyes glowing ever so subtly, a line of pearls between the nearly closed edges of their familiar scalloped shell.
Better? I hope so. Scalloping really is a lot of fun and I’d hate for you to miss out, all because of one poorly written description. I mean, the meal you can make with these tender mollusks is absolutely divine! And we do like to eat on vacation, don’t we?
However, before you can indulge in gastronomical heaven, you must remove them from their shells. Oh yes. Cleaning is BIG fun. Wedging a curved knife (grapefruit spoon works well, too) into their tightly closed shell, scraping them clear from the lid, then tossing it aside before you clean the muck and guts away from their pristine white flesh…
Speaking of sea turtles, while you’re out on your scallop-hunting excursion, you’ll be witness to an amazing array of sea life. From enormous sea turtles gliding by your boat to foot long stingrays skimming over grassy tips, you’ll feel at one with Mother Ocean. Your kids? The lure of finding a starfish, snail and blue crab will surely get them back in the water!
Then take them into the kitchen. Blue crabs are a tasty treat in these parts and all it takes is a quick boil to make them bright red and scrumptious good! And they make an excellent accompaniment to those scallops you’ve drenched in butter and garlic, topped with a dash of bread crumbs. Hmmm…. So when are YOU going scalloping? Are you afraid of extra junk in your house? You can basically use any junk removal service you like.
Better hurry—season ends September 25th.