Most of my childhood was spent in the South, in South Carolina. If you haven’t guessed, life is a little different than spending time on the northern edge of the United States. When we were little, we used to ride our bikes down to the small lake on the air base, with our fishing poles like lances sticking out in front of us as we rode. We did have a basket to put our little tackle box, and some worms. Our plan was always to stand on the end of the dock, and catch enormous fish, like bass or crappie or perch, or even sunfish.
Most of the fish we caught in that lake must have had premature stunted growth, because few if any measured over five inches, which put them a little shy of a state record, we guessed. My clearest memory, however, was the time I gave it my all, and made a huge cast from the dock, and ended up throwing my entire rod and reel into the lake. It went pretty far, too – so far that it quickly sank out of sight, and there was no way to retrieve it. It kind of took the fire out of my fishing for a while.
We never really caught much fish. What we did catch would have been pretty hard to clean, after taking the head and tail off – at five inches, things become about the size of a quarter. Plus, fish that size have the tendency to swallow the hook, which means they rarely survive the surgery to retrieve it.
When we moved to Omaha for the year, there was great promise in catching largemouth bass (they said). We spent a good afternoon catching huge grasshoppers in the field beside our house one day, and then went to the lake to haul in the big ones. Now, if I were a big ol’ fish, and I saw a grasshopper swimming above me, I think I would give it a shot. But apparently, we were after fish that had a restricted diet, and so after drowning a large quantity of grasshoppers, we let the rest go into their new world by the lake, and hung up our fishing stuff.
When we moved to north country, however, it was as if the fish carried a whole different passport. Instead of catfish, and crappies, and the occasional bass, the lakes and rivers held the promise of muskies, and northern pike – and walleye. I don’t fish much at all, partly because, well, I really stink at it. I have been invited by some kind fellows to go along, mostly out of pity, and I have caught a few over the years, but I have to admit, most fish, from the South to the North, feel quite safe when they realize my line is in the water.
This does NOT mean, however, that I don’t know how to cook fish, and eat fish! When you go to our neighborhood grocery store, there in the fresh fish section you will find cod, haddock, salmon, and even sea bass, and of course, the created-in-a-lab-somewhere Tilapia. However, among all the varieties, usually nestled in the back of the ice-filled showcase, you will discover “walleye” – usually about $15/lb. I remember when we lived in Nashville, of looking for walleye. Most folks had never heard about it, as they deep=fried their catfish. We did discover it once at a grocery store, but the walleye were slabs almost an inch thick, and weighing a couple of pounds dressed weight. Since the best walleye are those that are less than a half-pound when all is said and done, I asked the fellow if he had any smaller ones for sale. His response was, “Well, I can cut this one in half, if you’d like…” I don’t think he understood the concept of the tastiness of small fish, since his catfish specimens looked like they came from Jurassic Park.
Up here in Fargo, however, they know the better story. Of course, the best comes when you catch it and clean it yourself, and then cook it within hours of it swimming around, but shy of that, the never-frozen, wild caught walleye are there, ready to be caught (if the guy behind the counter tosses you the wrapped up fish…).
So, there are times when I act more Scandinavian than my sons, who carry half that genetic code in them. Cheri and I really, really like walleye, when it’s dipped in a milk and egg slurry, and then dredged with all-purpose flour and a touch of salt and pepper. Then, of course, it is fried – in butter – for about six minutes. Perfection in the world of fish. Our sons, however, regularly punt when we suggest having walleye for supper. They rather order burger with only ketchup on it from a delivery place. All parents live with a certain level of disappointment in terms of their offspring, I’m sure. Mine comes in food selection.
So, somehow yesterday, the stars aligned, and both sons were invited to friends for supper. This never happens – not both at the same time. I saw our chance. I suggested to Cheri that, since they would be gone for the evening, we could fix – dare I say it out loud – some nice walleye fillets, along with some rice, and enjoy the delicacy of the north. It’s kind of like eating caviar, except it is something you will enjoy, instead of trying to look fancy. Walleye is a nicely delicate, white and non-fishy fish that cooks up, as I described, wonderfully. Not too hot a pan, and not too long.
We cooked it up, plated it, and then went to watch the Downton Abbey movie that Cheri got for Mother’s Day. None of these things would be possible with boys in the mix. It was wonderful, and almost had us saying, “Ya, you betcha!” as a result. The finest moment came when the boys came home later and asked why we hadn’t had the fish after all. I said we did, and they commented that usually when there is fish cooked, the place smells like a fish market, and not the good part. Last night, they were particularly tasty and fresh, and non-aromatic, so another victory was ours.
Now yes, I know that it’s fully possible to cook and eat fish even when the boys are home, and just tell them to find their own way, but we usually try to do meals that we all have in common. Hence, the rarity of walleye night.
However, when those times do arise, as rare as hen’s teeth, Cheri and I will be intentional to the nth degree, and fix up a nice serving or two of the queen of the north, and smile and nod in agreement. That’s one reason I married her – walleye love.
Word for the Day: jentacular. Pronounced jen-TACK-you-lahr. It’s a nearly unique word description in the English language. Coming from Latin, ientaculum, it means “a breakfast that is eaten immediately upon getting up.” Otherwise, not a brunch… The original Latin was a verb that sort of meant “I breakfast,” which of course we don’t use. Nor do we use a description that something is “breakfast,” so this one is pretty unique. If you do want to talk about something you do before breakfast, you can say antejentacular – “ante” meaning “before,” like “antebellum,” meaning “before the War – Civil, that is. You may want to say “prejentacular,” but that prefix doesn’t fit this context. Enjoy your jentacular time tomorrow morning!
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.