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Fried Fish

By Jan White
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Friday fish fry days are an American tradition that goes back hundreds of years. During the season of Lenten, the forty-day period leading up to Easter, the Catholic Church called for members to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Since the church defined meat as the flesh of warm-blooded animals and fish were cold-blooded animals, they became the obvious alternative.

It was the European immigrants relocating to America in the 1800s who brought with them the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays. Interestingly, Prohibition helped encourage the practice of Friday fish fries – because taverns could no longer sell alcohol, they resorted to selling fried fish to stay in business.

In 1962, McDonald’s filet-o-fish sandwich was created when a Cincinnati franchise in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood struggled to sell hamburgers on Friday during Lent.

The menu for the Friday fish fry varies by region – in the Midwest, it consists of beer-battered fish (often cod) served with tartar sauce, lemon wedges, French fries, coleslaw, and rye bread. In the northeast, the meal features battered or breaded fish (haddock, cod, or flounder), fries, coleslaw, dinner rolls, and sometimes macaroni or potato salad. And because catfish is king in the South, typically, the filets are dipped in cornmeal batter and deep-fried with a side of French fries, sweet potato fries, hushpuppies, and coleslaw.

Beginning Feb. 24, locals can partake in the six-week-long Lenten fish fry offered by Crockett’s St. Francis of the Tejas Catholic Church. Polly Bradford, one of the dedicated volunteers, shared some ‘insider information’ about the annual fish feast.

“Ginger Gregg spearheads the event. She started it about ten years ago. Lunch is from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. is dinner. The cost is $15 for adults, $6 for children, and two-year-olds and under are free. And that includes a dessert and a drink.” Bradford emphasized that the price of the meal is a bargain. “You know, when you go out to a restaurant, you don’t get that [drink and dessert] for free. But here, for 15 bucks, you get it all.” They also offer takeout. “And if the order is big enough,” she said, “we can deliver.”

All the food is made from scratch except for the french fries. “Catfish, hush puppies, potato salad, coleslaw, fries, tartar sauce, cocktail sauce – it’s all homemade.” Bradford said that preparation starts on Wednesday when volunteers gather in the kitchen at the Catholic church to make all the sauces. “We prepare a hundred pounds of potato salad on Thursday and bake the cakes. Then we ice the cakes on Friday morning. And a lot of ladies bring homemade desserts like cobbler.”

Although organized by the Catholic church, Bradford stressed that everyone is welcome. “It’s open to the community,” she said. Many see the event as more than just a meal. “It’s a good place to come and have a nice dinner…go from table to table, visiting and catching up with friends.”    

The fish fry is a big fundraiser for the church, and the folks who cook for the event work hard to make it a success. Bradford says that on Wednesday, she and her coworkers are at the church from 9 a.m. to one or two in the afternoon. “On Fridays,” she said, “I go to church at 8 a.m., and I stay until they close up shop, around 7:30 or 8 p.m.” Bradford praised her coworkers, describing them as ‘workhorses.’ “It’s exciting, but it’s a lot of work,” she admits. “You’re pretty exhausted at the end.”

For more information about the fish fry, contact the St. Francis of the Tejas Catholic church at 936-544-5338.

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