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Author to talk about Florida seafood at Times Festival of Reading

White Clam Chowder from Good Catch: Recipes & Stories Celebrating the Best of Florida’s Waters by Pam Brandon.
White Clam Chowder from Good Catch: Recipes & Stories Celebrating the Best of Florida’s Waters by Pam Brandon.
Published Oct. 20, 2014

The love affair with Florida food is continuing for three Orlando writers.

Good Catch: Recipes & Stories Celebrating the Best of Florida's Waters by Pam Brandon, Katie Farmand and Heather McPherson (University Press of Florida, 2014) is a watery followup to their 2012 book, Field to Feast. That book celebrated what grows and grazes on Florida land. This one features the stories and recipes of the men and women who farm the state's inland waters and the seas surrounding the peninsula and Panhandle.

Brandon is one of the featured authors at the Times Festival of Reading on Saturday at University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She will be sharing their experiences about writing the Good Catch and signing books afterward.

Initial reaction to the book, which came out last month, has been good, Brandon said, and a mention in the hip Southern lifestyle magazine Garden & Gun was a welcome boost.

The authors traveled the state to interview both commercial and recreational anglers, which proved to be a bit of a challenge.

"Farmers are hard to get a hold of, many don't carry cellphones and they don't text, but fishermen don't talk much," Brandon, who is managing editor of Edible Orlando, said. "They spend a lot of time at sea and it can be a lonely life. Even on a big shrimping boat, there might be only five people." (Her co-author and daughter, Farmand, is the editor at Edible Orlando. The third author, McPherson, is the food editor and restaurant critic of the Orlando Sentinel.)

"I guess you have to be quiet when you fish, and maybe that's why they aren't so talkative," she said.

Nevertheless, the authors gathered the tales of people like Brett Wallin, whose family has been fishing the water around Sarasota for four generations. He is carrying on the legacy at Walt's Fish Market on the Tamiami Trail. The book features the garlic crab recipe from Peck's Old Port Cove in Crystal River and the story of owners Tommy Williams and his son, Dan. A book about Florida seafood could hardly be considered legit without a mention of Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in St. Petersburg. Good Catch includes a recipe for the iconic smoked fish spread, which uses a combination of mahi mahi and mullet.

And it's not all about seafood, Brandon said. The authors also highlight the drinks, side dishes and desserts served at some of the state's historic restaurants, and fishing villages and camps. Like, for example, the onion rings at Goodrich Seafood and Oyster House in Oak Hill in Brevard County. Thanks to a double-dipping in the batter plus panko bread crumbs, they are exceptionally crunchy.

Brandon said one of the biggest surprises that came in the course of the research was learning about the variety of the Florida seafood catch and the seasonality. Most of us know that the six-month stone crab season, which started last week, ends in May, but it might be news to some that swordfish, grouper and other fish and shellfish also have seasons.

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"There are five different kinds of Florida shrimp and they come at different times of the year," she said. (Be on the lookout for reds — sometimes called royals — which have limited availability spring through fall. They are bright crimson deep-water shrimp and the flesh is white as cotton balls and tastes something like lobster.)

The book doesn't go into great depth about the 2011 BP oil spill in the gulf, which has cast a long shadow on the safety of the seafood pulled from the water. But that doesn't mean, Brandon said, it wasn't on the authors' minds or on the minds of the fisherman who earn their living there.

"They are still finding clean seafood there," Brandon said. "But you never know what the next generation will look like. Even though the gulf is big, you just never know."

Still, the fishermen are hopeful, she said, because they have to be. Many of them are carrying on the family business and want to be able to pass it on to their children and grandchildren.

"You just meet these people and you fall in love with them," Brandon said. "You want to share them and make people see how important it is to support Florida fishermen."

Contact Janet K. Keeler at jkeeler@tampabay.com. Follow @RoadEats.