Archaic men were mostly the ones fishing, first with clubs, then spears and hooks and lines, later improving their chances by creating nets and traps. The fish gorge, having been used for thousands of years later evolved into the fishhook. Fishing began in rivers and lakes before venturing out into the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean in boats or dugout canoes.
These canoes were first used by the Middle Archaic Indians and have been found in several locations around the state. Traveling from Fort Myers to Lake Okeechobee on the Caloosahatchee River, referred today as the canoe highway, the canoes were not only used for fishing but were a major mode of transportation.
As fishing techniques improved so did their diet. Spear throwers caught eels and turtles; smaller fish, such as mullet, pinfish, catfish and pigfish were netted using cordage (made from twisted palm or other plant fibers); and tidal traps or fishing weirs were likely used to catch larger fish in greater quantities. The fish weir was a wood or reed fence that stretched across a stream or river to trap or catch fish. When the fish swam over the fence in high tide the weir caught them as the tide went out. Another process for catching fish was damning with upright stakes or laced branches in streams.
The Archaic Indians gathered shellfish by wading out into the shallow waters of barrier islands, beaches, bays and estuaries, or by waiting for the tide to fall. The catch might include conch, crab, clams, lobster, shrimp, fish and oysters. Oysters were a popular food choice. They thrive where fresh water mixes with salt water and attach themselves to their surroundings, they could then be loosened with a stick and carried off.
No chase, no kill and the oyster could be eaten dead or alive, cooked or raw, right on the spot or dried for later use. Oysters on the half shell are one of God’s most perfect foods, from the amount of discarded oysters shells found in middens throughout the state of Florida it appears the Archaic Indians and those that followed felt the same way. They might have discovered by accident fresh oysters, when placed on hot coals or fire, open spontaneously; leave them on the coals a little longer and you will have roasted oysters.
My dad was a pro at shucking oysters and living in Bay County we were lucky to have some of the best oysters in the country. When he brought home big burlap bags full of these fine oysters family and friends gathered around but not everyone agreed slurping an oyster from the half shell was the way to go, so saltines along with horseradish and cocktail sauce was available for those who needed a little coaxing to down a raw oyster. But the roasted oyster was my favorite.
Roasted Oysters on the Half Shell
2 dozen oysters in the shell, washed and scrubbed
Any open oyster that doesn’t close when tapped should be discarded.
Prepare charcoal grill for cooking according to manufacturers directions and place the oysters on the grill about 4 inches from heat.
Roast for 5-10-15 minutes until shells pop open.
When cool enough to handle serve in the shell with condiments on the side. Cocktail sauce was always my first choice, I liked it so much when the oysters were gone I continued to put the sauce on Saltines and eat them.
My Favorite Cocktail Sauce
½ cup chili sauce
½ cup catsup
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon grated onion
¼ teaspoon liquid hot pepper sauce
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and chill.