Journalists and other starving artists can’t afford to support every good cause or fundraiser with our meager personal funds.
And though there are lots of charitable causes out there, I’m particular about which ones I can support. In addition to my own church, I’m willing to buy something another church or civic group is selling, especially if it’s food.
On a rare occasion, I’ll support a bake sale if it has fried apple or peach pies. Needless to say, I’ll support any organization raising funds with a barbecue plate or one selling Boston butts. My favorite fundraiser, though, is the fish fry.
You can almost tell what kind of fish is being sold by the cars in the parking lot. Fried catfish seem to draw the most customers. I’m one of them. It’s not like other fish and doesn’t really have a fishy flavor at all. In addition to frying, catfish is great grilled or baked or part of stew.
I suspect most of catfish sold at locally sponsored fish fries are farm-raised. Smaller churches, however, are just as likely to serve catfish caught by one or more members of their congregation.
For public consumption, you’ll be limited to catfish only. No other freshwater game fish like bream, bass or crappie.
There’s probably a law that prohibits the commercial sale of game fish. If so, I doubt that stops churches from cooking and serving game fish to their own folks. Church members are family, after all. I’ve partaken of more than a few church-run fish fries.
Not all fish fries depend on freshwater fish. A lot of fundraiser fish fries sell flounder, which is a delicious fish with flaky chunks of white meat. In coastal communities like ours, it’s not unusual to buy a plate of sea trout at a fish fry. If you find one selling grouper or puppy drum, get in line quickly. They’re rare.
Where I grew up near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a lot of small churches’ fish fries sold spots, croakers and mullet. Most of these fish were caught in nets and are therefore considered commercial fish. Some folks might think them to be oilier than flounder, but if they’re served soon after they’re caught, they’re a treat. When I’m surf-fishing or fishing from a pier, these fish do not get thrown back.
Although mullet can get quite large, spots and croakers are not much bigger than freshwater bream, so you really have to catch a “mess” of them to feed a family. A family fish fry is different than a fundraiser fish fry.
It’s those family fish fries that conjure up the memories that cause me to support fundraiser fish fries. At least twice a year, we’d travel back from Camp Lejeune to the family home in Thomas County, Georgia. Each trip almost always culminated with a day’s fishing at Papa’s pond. The fishing event was immediately followed by a fish fry right there on the bank of the pond. It was a mountain of just-caught catfish, bream and bass. No crappie, though.
My brother and I scaled or skinned tons of fish, which Papa and Daddy filleted. Mama and my grandmother, Mama Lois, along with my Great Aunt Lena, fixed coleslaw, hush puppies, baked beans, cheese grits and fries. My two sisters and another aunt my own age helped set up the picnic table while constantly chasing after the paper napkins the wind blew away.
When all was ready, Papa prayed, then we ate. I would eat and eat, and when I couldn’t eat any more, I’d go back to fishing. I wanted some fish to take home with me.
I remember the laughter we shared more than I remember the meal. I can’t relive the laughter, but I can relive the memories of the meal every time I support a fish fry.
Email Murray at email@example.com.