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Fish fry brings back memories

By Kay S. Pedrotti Some people couldn’t imagine why I’m so excited because my family reunion this year includes a fish fry. So what’s a fish fry? Only one of the best Southern traditions ever. Back when, the order of a fish fry started about dawn the day before, when Granddaddy, his sons, sons-in-law and sundry friends would start out for the river or somebody’s pond to ‘catch dinner.’ Their efforts usually were abundantly rewarded ‘“ Granddaddy’s ability to tell when the fish would bite was just about as good as Grannie’s weather- predicting. The cleaning, scaling, skinning (catfish) and salting-down was also generally done by the males ‘“ they didn’t mind if some of the women wanted to join in, of course. The battering with old-fashioned cornmeal, maybe a tad of flour, was done just before the fish went into the sizzling fat. Yes, my grandfather had a cast-iron cook pot for cooking fish in pure lard. It sat on an open fire at the edge of the back yard, watched faithfully by whoever’s turn it was to make sure the fire didn’t spread and the fish got done. The couple of hours it took to cook enough fish and hushpuppies to feed the Smith tribe were the longest I ever endured as a kid. The best of the fish cooked ‘“ choosing from catfish, bass, mullet or bream ‘“ had to be the ‘fingerlings,’ channel cats about five to eight inches long. While they provided only a few bites each, those bites were so good it didn’t matter. The fishermen always caught hundreds, so nobody ever left hungry. Mama would want to peel the good parts off those little fish so Vicki and I wouldn’t catch a fishbone in the throat; we thought we had grown up when she stopped insisting and let us gnaw away on our own. This year’s fish fry, in the yard between two of my Fitzgerald relatives’ houses, will be very different and yet still the same. We’ll be using propane fryers, probably peanut or vegetable oil, and what passes nowadays for cornmeal. There just isn’t any such thing anymore as the kind of cornmeal that would make such great crunchy batter. The fish will be catfish, mullet and wahoo, an ocean fish furnished to me by my sister the intrepid fisherwoman. Bob and I will have to do our own gluten-free batter and hushpuppies, foregoing those pups from my cousin Elaine. She learned the craft from her mother my Aunt Nell, one of the best cooks ever to lift a spoon.The best coleslaw-makers and cheese-grits creators have been recruited and of course the desserts will be fabulous. It’ll be a trek, what with our cooker, lawn chairs, coolers, luggage and precut fish jammed into Bob’s pickup. I don’t doubt it’ll be worth it. It’s just that I could wish all our ‘little young’uns’ had the taste for fried fish that we all did … some of them want hot dogs. I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks how we managed. Somehow I believe that my cousins Tommy and Julie Robitzsch of Warner Robins will be worthy successors to Granddaddy and Grannie. Kay Pedrotti is a writer and reporter for the Herald Gazette.

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