With Memorial Day coming up and Father’s Day not too far behind, I’ve been thinking about my father lately. He passed away back in 1994.
At just 74 years old, it was early, but he’d always said he didn’t think he’d see 75, and he was right. His birthday was in August and he passed away in July of that year after a very long and difficult battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Now that I’m writing a cooking/eating, and places to do those things kind of blog, it got me thinking about the things I cooked with my father.
My father’s repertoire in the kitchen was limited
I’m not sure how young I was when I realized that my father didn’t really cook meals. I’d heard a lot about his mother and what a great cook she was, but she died the year before I was born. All I had to go by were his descriptions of the pies, bread, donuts, and all manner of amazing food she used to make. She baked EVERY MORNING! And she raised six daughters and my father and instilled in them the belief that cooking was woman’s work. Hmmmm….
My mother was raised by a businesswoman, so she never really learned to cook until she met my father. Then she made notes and tasted and got schooled on the art of baking bread and the way to make a few favorites of my father’s.
On Snowmobile Weekends with my aunt and uncle, or beach trips with my aunt, my sister and I heard about needing to learn to cook. My brothers got to go out with the men on their snowmobiles. They got to walk the beaches, run to the local store, but come mealtime, my sister and I had to head back to prepare food “for the men.”
Seriously! That’s how my aunt put it. I remember one weekend up in the mountains it was a beautifully sunny if cold day and there was snow everywhere. My brothers (neither of them more than 11 or 12 I think) got to head out on “the machines” to run the trails near Mount Washington, Cranmore, and others. We had to stay home because “girls don’t do those things” so we got to clean, cook, and take a break at lunchtime to go outside to a nearby frozen pond to skate. But we had to head back quick to prepare for dinner. Yup, that’s the kind of household my father was raised in.
But my father did learn to cook
My father was a private in the army. Something he was extremely proud of. His experiences in WWII were something he talked about rarely. But we did hear about KP Duty (Kitchen Patrol Duty) where he had to pitch in and peel potatoes, wash dishes, clear tables, and in general do all the menial jobs required to feed hundreds of men in makeshift kitchens on the battlefront. He seemed to like it. Although I always thought one of the reasons was it gave him some time to decompress from the things he was experiencing every day. He also learned to make a couple simple dishes. The one I remember was making fried fish. He was stationed in England for quite a bit during the war so perhaps he learned this one from British soldiers who were camped nearby, or at a fish and chip shop in a village he passed through.
Fried Fish in the Bag
Many Fridays of my childhood, my father would come home from work with fresh fish. He worked as a cooper until I was around 8 or 9. It’s tough work, steaming wood, building barrels, and boxes with his father. And he worked long hours. We’d get up literally before the sun came up and my mother would pile us into the station wagon so we could drive with both my parents into Chelsea. It was a good 30 – 45 minutes to get there. But we only had one car, and if my mother wanted to use it, she’d have to drive my father to work. She’d then load us all back into the car at the end of the day and drive to my Grandfather’s house in Medford to pick my father up. But Friday nights were different. My father would arrive home with his package of fish and we’d cook it with him while my mother got a bit of a break.
You’ll need a dutch oven and oil/Crisco/lard sufficient when melted to reach about 2” in the pan.
- Crisco to get enough liquid in your pan to cover the fish at least halfway (we had a can of lard on the stove so my guess is that got added in too)
- 2 lbs fish fillet (cod, scrod, haddock, halibut)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 TB dried basil
- 2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- Prepare a cooling/drip pan for the fried fish. I usually set a couple paper towels on a cookie tray.
- Set your oven temp to 175 degrees
- Mix all dry ingredients in a paper bag. We used to use a lunch bag.
- Rinse the fish fillets and pat dry
- Drop fish fillets one at a time into the bag and shake until well coated
- Set them on a cooling rack for a few minutes for the flour to stick and dry
- Once your oil reaches about 350 degrees, you’re ready to drop pieces in one or two at a time (don’t put too many in at once or the oil will cool off)
- Cook until the fish floats on the surface and is well browned on both sides. This will take between 4 and 10 minutes depending on how thick the fillets are.
- Lift the fish with tongs and let drain on your paper toweled cookie tray.
- Depending on how many pieces you’re doing, you may need to replace the paper towels. When you do, remove the fish and place it onCook a clean tray to stay warm in your oven.
Serve with tartar sauce, coleslaw, or my pickled carrots with the traditional fries on the side.
Friday nights were fun cooking with my father
When I get fried fish at a restaurant, I always compare it to those evenings in my childhood kitchen. I really can’t remember how the fish tasted back then, but I do remember it was a nice feeling to have all of us together. My father usually got up the next morning to work for one more day.
Most days he was up and out before we woke, and home after we’d gone to bed. But Friday nights we usually got to see him and do something with him that didn’t involve holding a wrench, or a flashlight and waiting for the language my mother didn’t allow in the house!
Read some of my recent posts
- Shrimp and Corn Chowder with Marinated Artichokes
- Vegetable Barley Stew and a Walk Through the deCordova Sculpture Garden
- Pastitsio in Honor of a Friend
- Memories of Halloweens Past and a Wintery Halloween Walk
- Maine – The Border is Open Again
Would love to hear how your fried fish came out, and if you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it with friends!