My first memory of a family fish fry happened when I was in the second grade so it would have been in the spring of 1962. We were over at my grandfathers and my dad has helping him finish up capping a batch of homemade beer. They decided to go to Bayport (about 25 miles away) and buy some fresh perch at the Englehart Fishery. When we got there they were unloading a boat of freshly netted fish, and the place was busy sorting and weighing and packing the fish in crushed ice in wooden crates. My older brother and I were mesmerized by all of the different kinds of fish and their sizes. We also saw a large stock tank that they kept large live catfish in. My dad bought a crate with 50 pounds of Yellow Lake Perch and put in the trunk of the car and we headed back to Grandpa’s. On the way we stopped at a Bar in Kilmanagh for a beer for Grandpa and Dad, and a pop for John and I. The Bar was actually a house with large living room that was converted for business. A small bar in the back with a few small tables scattered around the rest of the room. When we got to Grandpa’s, John and I were put to work scaling fish. My Grandpa made some fish scalers by nailing 3 beer bottle caps on a scrap of wood. I think this type of scaler works best even today, they don’t cut the flesh of the fish or your hands easily. Grandpa and Dad cut the heads off and gutted and de-finned the fish. Grandma and Mom made coleslaw, homemade French fries and breaded and fried the fish. The fish was served with fresh squeezed lemon juice and there was always bread close at hand just in case anyone swallowed a bone. The fish was eaten by breaking it open along the backbone and the spine and ribs were separated from the meat.
And this is the way it was done at home until Mom was taught how to fillet fish. Then things really improved the eating but made more work for everyone. We still purchased most of our fish at Bayport in 50 pound boxes, but once home everyone was put to work. Luckily our family included 2 younger sisters to help spread the workload. So everyone helped in one way or another. Mom and I were the most adept at filleting, John and Dad did the scaling and the girls helped were they could. When it got close to dinner time, Mom and Dad would start preparations for breading the fish, Dad would start rolling crackers between two linen towels with a rolling pin to make the cracker crumbs and Mom would get everything else together. The coleslaw would usually be made the night before or the moning of buying the fish. The girls would be busy peeling potatoes for French fries. And my brother and I would continue to clean fish if there was any left to be done, if not we cut up the potatoes into fries.
Once things were all set for cooking, one person minded the stove and started cooking fries first in 2 large deep cast iron frying pans. The first pan done was then used to fry fish, and when all of the fries were done both pans were used for fish.. One person breaded the fish. This was the only meal that everyone did not sit down to eat at the same time. As soon as a pan of fish was done, the feasting commenced for those not cooking or breading. The cook and breader snatched bites here and there until someone relieved them to eat.
After all of that work those fresh fish sure tasted good, and no store bought brand can compete with homemade fries or coleslaw. The bread was always kept on the table just in case a fish bone slipped through, and of course it wouldn’t be a fish dinner without the fresh lemon juice for Dad and anyone else that wanted it.
After dinner, the rest of the un-breaded fish was packed for the freezer and then Mom would take the leftover breading materials and mix them up into a stiff batter, to this she would sometimes add the fish eggs that we saved from cleaning the perch if they were caught during spawning season, and fry up these dough balls, they weren’t too bad either. Once she had tried breading the egg sacs and frying them just like the fish, but she was the only one who liked them as they were quite fishy tasting. (But the dogs LOVE them!)
Once I was old enough to drive, I usually provided all the perch we needed by fishing for them around Bayport and Caseville in the spring. Until I was married, that is. After I started working at the Saginaw Grain Terminal I rarely had the time to go fishing. And by the time I did, the average size of perch had dropped from 10 inches to 4-5 inches because of the use of smaller weave nets by the commercial fisherman and the plantings of walleye and the drop of the water levels in the Great Lakes.
For my family, I mix up the breading ingredients ( I don’t use the fish eggs) into a stiff batter, add some sugar, roll them into balls and then fry them up. They are crunchy and sweet and make a perfect desert that the kids just love. Now when I fix fish for just me and the wife, I omit the sugar and just fry up forkfuls of batter to share them with the dogs who love them as much as the kids do.
The old family recipe is more of a guide and list than an actual recipe because it all depends on the amount of fish that you are going to fry.
You will need:
FISH – The fresher the better. Any pan fish will work but Yellow Lake Perch are the #1 family choice.
SHORTENING: To fry the fish. Back in the day it was easy to find shortening with a blend of animal and vegetable fats. Now it’s a lot harder to find, look for the cheapest brand you can find and it may have both (Wal-Mart is where I get mine). Any oil or shortening will work, but pure vegetable oils tend to make the end product less crisp and retain more oil.
MILK: Whole milk is best. To soak the fish in if they are an oily variety or strong smelling soak them for an hour or more. The lactose acid in the milk will help break down the oils and odor. Pond caught fish or any fish caught in warm water or weather and not cleaned immediately and kept cold are a good candidate for soaking. Fresh fish caught in cold water require only a dip in milk.
FLOUR: We use white all purpose, but any fine ground wheat flour will work.
EGGS: Any variety. Egg whites will also work but whole eggs work best.
SALTINE CRACKERS: Any brand. Crushing them into a fine meal between 2 linen towels gives a proper blend of crumbs not larger than ¼ inch. An easier acceptable method is to remove the lower chopping blade in your food processor and set the upper blade to grate, then to force the crackers through the feed tube as fast as possible. The whole idea is to NOT turn the crackers into flour but rather into small crumbs.
4 BOWLS: Large enough to hold the ingredients and the largest of your fillets.
The bowls were lined up in the order of use in breading the fish; # 1. Milk # 2. Flour # 3. Egg and milk mixture, about a 60/40 blend of more egg than milk, whipped well. # 4. Cracker crumbs
Dip the fillet into the milk using a fork, then into the flour, make sure all surface is coated, shake off excess flour. Then dip into the egg and milk, (if the surface does not coat well add a little more milk to mixture), put into the cracker crumbs and cover well and press into crumbs, shake off excess and place on a cookie sheet. The sooner from breading to fry pan the better. Place fillets into hot oil (350 degrees) at least ½ inch deep and cook on both sides until golden brown and the bubbling subsides, remove from oil and drain in a wire mesh colander. Enjoy!
Well after a long wait, we finally took the grandchildren fishing at the pond yesterday.
Both Aden and Ethan were very excited and couldn't stand the wait and hurried us along.
We had packed a lunch, so had a lot of stuff to carry, down the long trail through high wet weeds and raspberry brambles, through the woods, until finally reaching our destination.
Ethan grabbed the first fishing pole I set up as handed to Ang for baiting. While I was working on a pole for Aden, Ang had casted out Ethan's line, and he had a fish on immediatly.
Here both kids are marveling at Ethan's first fish.
Shortly after Aden caught her first fish.
It may have been small, but she was overjoyed anyway. They continued catching the bluegill mix breeds, having a great time studying each catch and putting them into a bucket of water.
Then Aden had a fight on her hands,
if you look close you can see Aden's bobber tearing across the water from the right, while Ethan's line is being cast out on the left.
With a lot of encouragement and cheering Aden finally got the fish to shore and pulled in a bullhead. Which she wasn't quite sure of.
Grandma and I were kept busy baiting hooks, casting lines and removing fish,
while the kids and Angie fished. Finally they stopped for lunch.
Grumpy Grandpa snuck off further down the shore and got in a little fishing of my own. Lynn and the kids soon joined me. Lynn got in a little fishing too!
It was getting close to nap time for the kids and they were getting a little sunburnt, so we packed up and trekked the long hike back to Angie's vehicle. She ended up with about 2 1/2 gallons of fish.
When we got back to our house, I gave Ang a refresher course in filleting fish and skinning bullheads (which she had never done before).
When I called her at 9:30pm last night, her and Eric were 2 hours into cleaning fish and they were only half done. The poor girl has probably been busy all day finishing up cleaning the fish and getting some of them ready for dinner tonight, while doing all of her normal mommy and farmmaid things.
We'll see how soon it will be before she wants to repeat this adventure!!!
Well my dogs are missing. This has happened overnight before, but tomorrow it will be a week. Since Bear has showed up on our doorstep, he has taken daily walks usually only lasting a couple of hours. But since Smeagol the Beagle showed up the walks got longer as she regained her strength. Lately Bear has been coming back all full of burrs and footsore and achy. I had been seriously considering taking Smeagol to the pound as she has not only been corrupting Bear, but for the past week has been terrorizing our flock of chickens. I guess I waited too long!! Last Friday as we were beginning to get our share of rain from IKE, she taunted Bear into following her for a morning romp in the rain and they didn't come back until late that night. Saturday morning I let them out in the light drizzle and she led him off again, for the last time. As the day progressed the rains got stronger and lasted until Monday morning. We haven't seen hide nor hair of them since. Calls to the dog pound and driving around the area have produced no results. I hope they have found a new home or maybe their original homes.
We spend our youth wishing we were older, and then when we reach "advanced maturity" we spend our lives wishing we were younger. Wouldn't it be interesting if we could live our life backwards?
Start out with the frailties of advanced age and progress to youth. To spend your "senior" years in school. Your middle age working. And your retirement in your youth. and progress toward infancy.
It would be much easier to take care of your parents as they mature if you were young and strong yourself.
My father is only 80 years old and on top of arthritis and heart trouble, has Parkinson's Disease and for the past year has been declining fast. It is heartbreaking to see the man you have always depended on for his strength and wisdom to be ravaged by such a disease.
Oh, I know there are worse things, and that I am not the only one facing such a dilema. But sometimes I wonder if God in his infinite wisdom, might have got this aging thing backwards.
Just think of the possibilities.
And if you aren't smiling, your just to young to understand.
Well it's that cool rainy time here in Michigan, which means that it is time for "Comfort Foods". Since so many of you like recipes and cabbage dishes are my favorites, here are a couple. No pictures but plenty of flavor.
Mock Boiled Dinner (Cabbage & Bacon)
1/2 large or 1 small cabbage 10 strips of bacon 4 whole allspice berries 1 Qt. chicken stock salt and pepper
Slice cabbage in 1" strips. Line the bottom of a 10"x 15"x 2" glass casserole dish with half of the bacon. Layer sliced cabbage on top, add chicken stock, salt and pepper to taste & allspice berries. top with remaining bacon. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 1 hour. Serve.
Cabbage Casserole or Un-Stuffed Cabbage
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef 1 lg. onion, chopped 1 head cabbage, chopped 1/4 c. uncooked rice, regular or long grain 1 can tomato soup + 1 can water 1 T. brown sugar salt and pepper
Brown meat with onion; drain. Grease a casserole dish with butter or margarine. Layer cabbage, meat, rice, cabbage, meat, rice, ending up with cabbage on top. Combine soup, water, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Pour mixture over cabbage. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Yesterday we had my wife's grandniece Bailey over for the afternoon. She had wanted to come and see our new bunnies and the rest of the animals. For something to do, I taught her how to shoot a BB gun and she took to it like a natural. I have instructed many boys, their fathers, and some girls too, gun safety and how to shoot as a Boy Scout and as a Scout Leader. But I find that teaching girls is much easier and that they become great marksmen faster.
I taught my wife to shoot a .22 when we were dating, and by the end of our first session, I knew that I NEVER wanted to make her mad at me when their was a gun around. She has become a good shot with everything from a BB gun up to and including High powered rifles and a 12 ga. double barrelled shotgun, (her favorite next to a .22 caliber rifle). And my daughters are as proficient as their mother. My son turned out to be a natural wing shooter with a shotgun and is now better at it than I am, and I am damn good. ( I have shamed many an expensive trap and skeet gun with my old hand-me-down Stevens 310 12 ga. side-by-side with store bought shells no less). And he can probably out shoot me with a .22 also.
Anyway, enough self praise, back to Bailey. While I was teaching her to shoot, she would get distracted and nervous by our chickens who would gather around us out of curiosity. So I handed her a flag that we use to shoo the chickens into their pen and she went to town.
HEY! No fair!! Get out of the tree!!!
I am not sure what she found more fun, shooting the BB guns or chasing the chickens!!!
I was using small air inflated water balloons for her targets and when she popped one she would celebrate by chasing the chickens, sometimes while riding my Amigo.
I hope she had as much fun as me and Lynn did watching her.
My wife and I were standing on the front porch this morning planning our day and spotted this guy flying from across the road.
It prompted me to grab the camera. We don't see many Praying Mantis' around here, but I know they are around. I think that this is what attracted him because he flew by our morning glorey encrusted sunflower.
The chickens came around the front porch too. One of our Barred Rock Roos and a couple of Rhode Island Red hens and a Grey Leghorn hen. And Mr. Americanna too. Gracie was taking a nap under a Hollyhock.
And Abbey was napping on the porch.
Harley and Bear were sleeping inside, while Smeagol the Beagle was off for her morning walk.
Ethel our male cockatiel (we named him too young and we were told it was a female by the store owner) was bouncing around (or maybe it was me).
Yesterday we made a large roaster full of stuffed cabbage. Yum Yum!
Earlier for lunch, I made an old family favorite, Yellow Wax Bean Soup.
I don't know if it is a true Hungarian recipe because I am sure the recipe has been modernized somewhat, but my mother's family made it for generations. A little bit of Heaven in a bowl.
YELLOW WAX BEAN SOUP
2 lbs of fresh yellow wax beans, cut up 4 stalks of fresh dill, (or more to taste) 1 can evaporated milk 1 stick of margerine 2 tablespoons flour
Put the beans and dill in a large pot with enough water to cover. Boil until tender crisp. remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.
Add the evaporated milk. Stir well, and bring soup back to a boil. In a saucepan, melt the margerine and stir in the flour, cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened. then add to beans. Add more water if too thick.
Serve and season to taste with salt and pepper, and if you are really traditional a little vinegar.
I usually omit all seasonings and enjoy just the light flavors of the beans and dill. To those who usually heavely season foods, this will be a very bland dish.
I have been happily married for 39 years, to the love of my life. We live quietly on a five acre family plot. We have 3 wonderful children who are now out of the house. Our oldest daughter has provided us with 2 beautiful grandchildren and our son with 1. We also have 2 LARGE dogs and 3 cats to keep us busy. Sometimes it's a zoo around here.
We are suppose to be in our "Golden Years" but they have turned to RUST!
I have Post Polio Syndrome. It has left me with a leg that just quits on me whenever it feels like it, muscles that tire easily, arthritis and degenerative disc disease in my spine, which causes me daily aches and pains that I have come to learn to live with, and a brain that gets confused very easily, forgets things quickly and doesn't allow me to do some of my old hobbies or read well. My wife has Fibro-Myalgia and suffers through it's daily pains and has Cronic Fatigue Syndrome too. She too is unable to work.
I dedicate this blog to my children and grandchildren, so that they may read some of my childhood memories, before I forget them all.