Jenny Scarborough

Ocracoke United Methodist Women are updating their cookbook.

The way we eat is changing, said Kay Riddick, who is coordinating gathering recipes.  "We don't use quite as much salt pork anymore."  Cookbook sales benefit the OUMW, who are responsible for the upkeep of the Methodist Rec Hall and parsonage.

Clam Fritters.
Clam Fritters.

The original cookbook, published in the 1950s, gives a glimpse into island pantries of the past.  It is worth owning not only for the recipes, but as a historic document of island names and lifestyle.  Eating locally harvested food was not a movement, but a way of life on Ocracoke.  There are recipes for fried drum, stewed drum, creamed drum, old drum, and smothered drum. 

Did you rake up some shellfish?  The small green cookbook, available at the Ocracoke Preservation Society gift shop and other island stores, includes three recipes for clam fritters, four for clam chowder, and loads of ways to prepare oysters, including oyster pone, oyster pie, oyster patties, oyster stew, and oyster dressing. 

When did you last boil the meat of six terrapin until tender?  Louie Dell Williams, Myra Wahab, Eva Williams and Elizabeth G. Howard all contributed recipes to prepare turtles for the table.  Chicken and goose make one appearance each.  Red meat is no where to be found.

Shrimp and crabs both appeared prominently on Ocracoke tables. One daring recipe, for shrimp Newburg, includes sherry.  Meals were invariably accompanied by biscuits or some form of cornmeal.  Raisin duff, rice frumenty, pickled figs and old fashioned molasses pudding were for dessert.

In the 1970s, the OUMW issued an updated cookbook with a bright yellow cover.  Both the diversity of contributors names and the variety of recipes suggest how Ocracoke had grown and changed. 

Staples like old drum, deviled clams and oyster fritters are complemented by racier offerings, such as skate with orange, cobia portugaise, crab souffle, and scampi.

Scallops earn their first mention, as do ham, roast beef, meat loaf, cheese balls, eggplant, pineapple and coconut.  Quiche must have been an exotic addition to an Ocracoke table, and jello was gaining traction as an ingredient.  

Lydia Spencer contributed a recipe for fish with 7-Up that sounds too good, and too easy, not to try the next time you bring home some fresh fish:  "Mix pancake flour with 7-Up.  Dip fish and fry."

A David Tweedie fig cake.
A David Tweedie fig cake.

There are recipes for fig cakes in both earlier versions of the Ocracoke cookbook.  The first dessert to earn the moniker, contributed by Levella Howard, was yellow cake with heated preserves spread between the layers.  Margaret Garrish is credited with making the earliest version of the currently ubiquitous fig cake.  Kay said that sometime in the late 1960s her sister Margaret substituted fig preserves for dates.  A delicious island tradition was born.  The yellow cookbook credits Margaret, Marie Womac, Frances Kemp, Iva O'Neal and Etta Spencer with perfecting the recipe. 

Both earlier versions of the cookbook will continue to be published.  The OUMW are asking for your help in putting together a totally new cookbook to reflect the way islanders eat and live now. 

To contribute your favorite recipes, send an e-mail to, drop her a line at P.O. Box 327, or "hand it to me or any of the United Methodist Women," said Kay.  They are hoping to have all recipes submitted by September 30, so the cookbook can be published and on sale for the start of the 2013 tourist season.