The Batty Sisters have been at it for six years, and up until last Saturday, they had two third places and a second place to show for it.
But at Saturday’s annual Apalachicola Oyster Cookoff, it was their chance to win the big one.
This wacky, enthusiastic band took home the top prize for their sesame oysters on crispy pan-fried wontons, with red pepper and pineapple sauce, and they danced in delight at Riverfront Park when their names were read.
“We;’ve been wanting this for so long,” said team captain Rebecca Nelson. “Really the goal is just to have fun, and today winning is just icing on the cake.
“The real goal was the People’s Choice,” she said, as the team brought in a whopping $1,129 for the Apalachicola Volunteer Fire Department.
“We’re just a couple of sisters and their friends who raise money, just a handful of people who just do it.”
Nelson’s teammates include Katie Sal, Jessie and John Pade, Elina Cilliers, Chris Verlinde and Pete and Balzar.
Taking second place was Ted Okilichany, for his BBQ oysters with garlic mashed potatoes, fruit guacamole dip and lime sauce. Third place went to Bill and Anne Avery for their Oyster Taters, potato skins stuffed with garlic mashed potatoes, fried oysters and hot honey peach nectar.
Serving as judges were City Commissioner Anita Grove, Oyster Radio’s Michael Allen and Justin Timineri, executive chef at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“Apalachicola is just as beautiful as it ever has been,” said Timinieri, optimistic that the market for wild-caught local oysters will rebound once the bay is reopened and restaurants are busy again throughout the state and nation.
“The entire food industry, I’m forever optimistic that it will be back as things start to rebound and people start coming out,” he said. “I think it’s very evident today. We’re looking around and I’m happy to see these faces of people driving in from other areas.
He said that in the wake of the bay closure, “we’re lucky to have some farmers that are farm raising them so there are still oysters out there to get that are delicious and amazing.
“In these modern times we have to maneuver into other ways to make our living so I believe that’s what we’re working towards,” said Timinieri. “You can still get an incredible delicious Gulf oyster from the area. It’s not the same as it exactly was, but we’re still proud of this area and the hard work that’s gone into everything’s that’s been done here. Because it is an incredibly important place when we talk about the state of Florida and the oyster industry in general.
“We want to support all our domestic fishermen,” he said, noting that the day’s oysters largely came from Virginia. “We’re having tough times in Florida and that’s when we lean on other states, whether it’s Texas or Virginia, all those are important.”
Marisa Getter, president of the fire department auxiliary, said the gross receipts of the day tallied about $74,000, with that total to drop once the food costs and other expenses have been deducted.
Among the groups that helped raise funds was the St. George Island Civic Club, and the organizers presented them with their Just Because award.