George Cadwalader sent me a letter talking about opening a school on Penikese, where we would live and cook with wood, and build the buildings ourselves. And I was young—I was 35 then— so I said yeah, I was interested in helping out. When I was there, we dealt with more than 1,000 boys. I’m still in touch with many of them and in close touch with three or four. A lot of them are dead, half are in jail, but some of them made it.
One of the things we try to teach at the Penikese Island School is that you have a good bit of control over your life. This sounds simple-minded and it is, but I think it’s valuable: We heat and cook with wood. If your job is cutting the wood and you don’t do it, then we can’t heat the house or cook the meal. You immediately see a connection between your activity and your own well-being.
My own children called me Papa. The kids on the island didn’t want to grant me the authority of being a father, even though I ended up being a father figure to many of them. So instead of calling me Papa, they called me Pops. That became my nickname, which carried over into when I started writing columns for On the Water magazine.
I do a lot of cooking because I’m interested in eating.
I don’t believe any recipe belongs to any one person. People have been cooking for hundreds of thousands of years. You end up with variations on themes.
Bluefish spoils very quickly. If you catch a bluefish, you should bleed it immediately upon getting into the boat and then ice it as quickly as you can. When you fish for bluefish with a rod and reel, they come one after another. And in the heat of the moment, people catch the fish and throw them on the deck of the boat, go back to get another, and pretty soon an hour or two has gone by while the fish are laying in the sun essentially rotting. What you should have done the moment you got the fish is put it in cold water and let it bleed. If you don’t have ice, I always have wet burlap bags and put the fish in them. Evaporation cools them and they won’t spoil.
A lot of people catch a dozen bluefish at noon, expose them on the deck for three or four hours, throw them in the trunk, drive home and give them to their neighbors—and they’re giving away rotten fish! No wonder people don’t like bluefish.
I was on a panel with three other guys that were bass experts and for some reason they considered me one as well—I’m not and I don’t claim to be a bass fishing expert. But at one point we were supposed to tell stories about big ones that got away, and they were going to give a prize for the best lie. If you’re ever in a liar’s contest, you always want to be last. The other three guys told their stories. It got to be my turn and I didn’t say anything. The emcee said, “You’ve always got something to say, Pops. Why don’t you tell us a story about a big one that got away?” I said, “I don’t let big ones get away.” So I won right away.