“I don’t really remember ‘learning’ to cook,” Martha Giles says. “We just did it, I guess from helping Mother,” back in her Chadbourne kitchen in Columbus County. “I do remember as a teenager baking on Saturday afternoons — homemade yeast rolls for hamburger buns for small family gatherings, lemon pies and cream puffs.”
Growing up close to the ocean, “We cooked a goodly amount of seafood, especially fish and oysters,” Giles recalls. “Our fish was usually fried or baked. But oysters — they were the best. I remember my mother bringing home quarts of shucked oysters that she bought from fishermen for about a dollar a quart. They were fried, stewed or my favorite, scalloped. Many were eaten raw.”
Marrying a fisherman — and a good cook himself — kept Giles close to the bounty of the sea. Often her husband, Thad, slipped down from Raleigh to Core Banks to fish for flounder, pompanos, bluefish and spots. Then they bought a little house near the water so he could stay a couple days at a time. In 1982 the Giles retired to Davis for good. Now they could fish whenever they wanted. Surf fishing mostly, for flounder, blues and spots. She remembers one trip, especially, when the fish were coming in so fast she recalls telling them to wait!
The Giles ate or froze their catch most of the time, or shared it with friends back in Raleigh. They baked or fried fish at first. Thad could make a mean tempura. And “I still can’t cook clam chowder (Manhattan-style) like he does. He likes to use the calico clams for this.”
Joining the Nutrition Leaders from the Gloucester Extension Club around 1985 opened Giles’ eyes to the possibilities and potential of seafood.
Find out more about Martha Giles and her fellow Nutrition Leaders in Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas. It is available from North Carolina Sea Grant by calling 919/515-9101 or 252/222-6307, from your local bookstore, or from UNC Press.
Contributed by Joyce Taylor