Along the Roanoke the
New Year really starts for many of us
on opening day of the Cypress Grill. It's the distinctive
taste of a well-fried fresh herring that cues us to the change rather
than a steaming bowl of blackeyed peas. Oh, we had our peas and ham
hocks on January 1st, like the rest of you, but it's just a warm up for
the real beginning of the new year, the one signaled by the
arrival of those bony swimmers from oceans far away.
Traveling from the
northern Atlantic back to their spawning waters in the swamps along the
Roanoke seems a long, cold and dangerous venture for such small
creatures. Traditionally, the local fisherman who caught the first of
this oncoming wave was recognized as possessing "the key to the
smoke house" and was looked on with admiration by his fellow
fishermen. Smoked herring (along with those winter-proof collards) were
known to sustain many eastern North Carolinians through tough times and
still hold a special place in the hearts (and stomachs) of many.
Times have changed and the "key to the
smokehouse" is likely to get you a big fine from the authorities
rather than admiration from your buddies. Herrings are trailing gold in
value and towns like Jamesville who have celebrated the importance of the
fish with annual spring festivals now have to beg those same authorities
to let us have just a few from local waters to keep our heritage alive.
Just makes 'em taste even better!