Arts & Culture

Ask G&G: Florida Shark Fears, Hush Puppies Without a Deep Fryer, and a Derby Betting Tip

Guy Martin explores seaside anxiety, jockey bets, and a favorite deep-fried delicacy

Illustration: BRITT SPENCER

Taking the kids to Florida, whose waters lead the world in shark bites. Should we worry?

In the hope of cutting back the raging hysteria about sharks at the onset of beach season, allow me to express a bit of shark love. Sharks are apex predators. As barometers of our waters’ health, they’re among the most elegant and vulnerable species in the ocean’s grand lattice. The question is: Why Florida? In ecology, it’s called encroachment, as in, the sharks preceded us on the South’s seaboard by some 450 million years. No shark can be made to care about Daytona’s racetrack, South Beach’s nightclubs, the super-trustworthy used beachmobile dealers, or the barely legal shell shops that bejewel Florida. Sharks do care about Miami’s Biscayne Bay, because that shallow, warm lagoon serves as a nursery for bull sharks, which are both euryhaline (able to tolerate fresh and salt water) and aggressive. There’s also a fine hammerhead nursery there. Are we loving this now? I’m loving it! It gets better: Thousands of blacktip sharks migrate annually between the Chesapeake Bay and South Florida. Like bull sharks, blacktips seek warm water and chase the tons of bait sluiced in by the Gulf Stream. How cool is that? Sharks try to stay clear: Last year, Florida tallied only twenty-five shark bites for a resident-plus-visitor population of some 146 million. That’s one bite per 5.8 million people. If that microscopic probability freaks you out, get the kids some rubber shark-fin hats and stick to the motel pool.

Garden & Gun magazine issues
Subscribe Today!
15th Anniversary Special Offer

How much should I factor jockeys into Derby bets?

Including their five to seven pounds of tack, the Derby three-year-olds can carry 126 pounds max, which means a jockey must weigh no more than 119. At that number or less, jockeys must be rock-hard athletes whose horse sense and racing acumen are honed to guide a 1,200-pound Thoroughbred blasting through the Derby’s mad scrum at forty miles an hour. In that fray, a jockey never “sits”; he or she crouches above without touching the saddle, knees and hips taking the brunt of the horse’s twenty-foot stride. As the Triple Crown kickoff, drawing huge fields of only lightly experienced runners, the Derby is a skilled pilot’s race like no other. John Velazquez is one of just ten jocks to have won the race at least three times. Mike Smith has $345 million–plus in winnings and has twice taken the Derby. Irad Ortiz Jr. has posted $268 million in his career, $37 million of which he hauled in just last year. Smith and Ortiz alone win between 16 and 20 percent of the races they enter. When sculpting your bets, take a hard look at who’s in the irons, because all Derby jockeys can ride. If you forget them, they’ll sting you.

We tossed our deep fryer years ago but now crave big batches of hush puppies. Suggestions?

Southern deep-fried everything is at the crux of the region’s identity, but as with much that is good in this dang world, some things deemed “too much trouble” fall off the chuck wagon. We grab hush puppies by the bushel at barbecue and catfish joints, but home fry-ups happen less often. First, a glance back: South Carolina’s renowned Edisto River chef Romeo Govan, born into slavery in the 1840s, bears a strong claim to have invented the cornmeal side as we know it. Govan called it “redhorse bread,” after the river redhorse, a star species at his celebrated fish fries in the late 1800s. He tossed his cornmeal balls into the lard in which he cooked the fish. I know of one staunch Piedmont home cook—called Grandbunn for her zesty CB handle Cinnamon Bunn—who had to confront the shocking failure of the tradition these days at one of her own fry-ups when her granddaughter blithely confessed she’d never even owned a home fryer. Two tactics will combat such malaise. Surely you have a cast-iron skillet? Use it! It’s more honest and inviting than the auto-electro appliance thing. The second tactic is to play hell with the recipe. From Lebanese falafel to Indian bhaji, hush-puppy-like fried dumplings are global. Toss some onions and turmeric into that batter. Chile powder and cilantro, parsley and thyme; doesn’t matter which way you punch it, it’ll keep your puppies alive and kicking.