Marrying a weekend angler in 1961 brought Vera Gaskins abruptly, but willingly, into the world of cooking seafood. A New Bern native, her husband, Walter, grew up by the water and fished every chance he got. He once even made the local paper Down East for reeling in two tarpon one year, as well as king mackerels and trout, his favorite.
“He loves the sport and I have always tried to use his catches to feed our family,” says Gaskins, a native of Alabama. Her sister-in-law passed along a few tips on frying oysters and fish, but for years Gaskins relied solely on the book The Art of Fish Cookery by Milo Miloradorvich for help and ideas. When she and her family moved to Carteret County in 1978, she came across a copy of Seafood Cookery, published by the Carteret County Home Extension office. “These two books were my only sources until I agreed to represent our local homemaker club as a Nutrition Leader” in 1982.
Before then, Gaskins fried 90 percent of the seafood she cooked. Now she bakes, grills, microwaves, stews, steams and fries. “I’m not afraid to experiment and alter recipes, and I no longer shy away from cooking seafood for a crowd — or opening freshly caught bay scallops and clams.”
Being a Nutrition Leader taught the former Emerald Isle mayor other valuable cooking lessons, too. Like keeping fish refrigerated before time to cook; pulling small bones out of fillets with pliers before cooking; baking fish only until it flakes; and using glass or non-metallic cookware for seafood. She notes she uses a lot less oil these days, too.
Find out more about Vera Gaskins 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