Far off the beaten path, a long, twisting ride off Highway 17 at the east branch of the Delaware River, you will find Ray Turner’s smoke house. Here, deep in the woods, Ray sells eels. They are trapped each autumn in a river weir that Ray spends most of the summer building. Once they’re caught, they are brined with salt and profoundly sweet dark-fall honey, then smoked over apple wood. The result is fish that Ray modestly calls “good groceries,” but that any connoisseur of smoked foods will swoon over. Eel meat is lush and oily, richer than any fish we know; its infusion with the dark honey brine and smoke give it a savory/sweet punch that is irresistible.
Eel has long been a favorite food here on the Delaware, and although it may have an icky reputation among squeamish eaters (who erroneously think of it as a snake rather than a fish), it is a truly wonderful regional delicacy. “All you have to do,” Ray explains, “is get over the ewwww factor and you fill find that eel is something very good to eat.”
The only problem is that eels are seasonal, so although Ray tries to catch and process as many as he can when they are running, by the next summer, he’ll be long out. But that’s OK, because he also smokes trout and salmon, duckling and Cornish hens. In other words, no matter when you find your way to this backwoods fish camp – which has been a working smoke house for generations – you will find food well worth taking home. When we visited, we came away with twelve gigantic smoked shrimp and an eight-pound slab of bacon.
Ray will ship his smoked fish via UPS in insulated packaging year around.