When I first moved to Pine Island some three years ago now, it quickly became evident that if I was ever to gain any old boy cred in the neighborhood, I was going to have to develop a 'killer' smoked mullet recipe. So the first thing I did was copy the recipe of a long time resident up the street...had to know how it was done before I could improve on it.
Next thing that varied from old boy to old boy recipe was the smoking wood. It was then I began to hear rumors...of old boy's now dead who used to use 'Buttonwood' as their favored smoking wood. Same with the native Americans, now long gone, who lived here on Pine Island...Buttonwood was the favored smoking wood.
So okay, nobody likes a good biology mystery more than this old science teacher so I set out to find some of this phantom smoking wood.
Just a little internet research, turned up a few clues. There are four types of mangroves in SW Florida: Red, Black, White and Buttonwood. One little science fact was the big hint that eventually led to it's discovery.
Alternate leaf arrangement----------->
See how the leaves are attached to the stem? One leaf, then a space then the next leaf.
Compare buttonwood leaf arrangement to this. This is a Red Mangrove but just like all the other mangroves except Buttonwood it has an opposite leaf arrangement.
Opposite leaf arrangement ---------->
So now that you know the one and only mangrove(Buttonwood) that has their leaves in an alternate arrangement you can go on to find some of them growing near the salt water. But there is one more thing to help you...they have deeply fissured bark by comparison to all the other mangroves.
So here we have what we're looking for: Alternate leaves, deeply fissured bark but there is one last thing...this plant is not nearly dead enough to be of use.
But this one is! Long dead...so long dead the bark is falling off. Perfect! The bark gives the smoke a bitter flavor so you don't want it on there.
Seems a lot of trouble to go to just to get a couple of fat dead sticks doesn't it? Well if you want the perfect smoking wood to compliment the perfect mullet you're just going to have to do a bit of investigating and looking around.
This is really what 'soft survivalism' is all about. Doing what you can to make use of the wild and natural things around you in a sustainable way. It's always a bonus when they taste superior to anything you can buy in a store or at the roadside.
It took me several recipe trials to get this as perfect as it could be but it all starts here with the proper natural flavor of the Buttonwood.