Mullet roe drying in the sun, Brown’s Island, 1938. The salted and sun-dried egg sacs of jumping mullet were a local delicacy and at least occasionally brought high prices in the New York market.
The big roe mullet usually began to appear in local waters in late October or early November. After slitting open the fish’s belly and removing the roe, the fishermen washed and salted the roe and let it soak in the salt for two or three hours.
They then rinsed off the salt and laid the roe out on planks to dry in the sun, gently pressing it flat and turning it occasionally for the first few days.
The color of the roe ranged from a pale yellow-orange to a beautiful sunset orange. In a week or two, the mullet roe acquired the hard consistency of Parmesan cheese, at which time the men strung together pieces of the sun-dried roe with twine in bunches of a dozen and stored them in barrels or hung them from the eaves of a cabin.
Sun-dried mullet roe was a favorite dish in many families in Otway and other parts of Down East. Fishermen often carried the roe in their coat pockets and ate it uncooked like beef jerky as a snack or as lunch on their boats.
When I visited with him recently, H. B. Lawrence remembered that his grandfather, Bedford Lawrence, always returned home from Brown’s Island with a couple barrels of sun-dried mullet roe. His grandfather hung them in bunches in a cool, well-ventilated part of his attic to preserve them better.
Like me, H. B. is still an enthusiast of sun-dried mullet roe, preferring it best of all baked with sweet potatoes.
Tomorrow– Brown’s Island #13– A Sunday Visitor