Sundays, Always at Noon in the 1930's

Uncle PM Heyssel and Uncle Biscuit Heyssel - my great uncles and Granddad Jim's brothers - at their fish-frying 
"stove" that was in front of the family cabin, below.
The cabin was down by the Moniteau Creek in Sandy Hook, just outside of Jamestown, a very small town
(pop. 273 then and now) that's close to Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri.
When the weather was nice and the fish were biting,
the family would gather there on a Sunday, always at noon for some good food and good times.
Not your modern-day cabin, not a lot of amenities, but it didn't stop the good times from happening!
That's mom's dad (my Granddad Jim Heyssel) standing at the window.

Mom wrote: "Dad in the picture window of the "lovely" cabin. 
A screened porch was the dining room and the hood ornament is on the Essex touring car."

Apparently fish fries have been a part of our family life for many generations. I never really bothered to think about how long it's been until mom and I started talking about her growing up and how any decent Sunday would find her and the family down by the creek for a fish fry - and always at noon. Some time ago, mom and I exchanged emails about the family fish fries, which I'll share now as it's a wonderful look into this tradition of ours. Though mom's email to me was written in response to what I'd written, it makes more sense to post hers first as it's a more accurate observation of what the fish fries were all about. 
Mom's sister, Helen, helping out in the outdoor kitchen. It's so well appointed!

On Monday, July 15, 2002, at 4:30 PM, Mary Bumgarner wrote:

Granddad Jim [my grandfather, my mom Mary's dad] never fried them in a batter, Grandma Mae [my grandmother, my mom Mary's mom] simply salted the fish and rolled them in corn meal. That was the way the uncles always did them at the cabin on the Moniteau Creek. After Sunday School and church, we would drive the 6 miles down the river hills from Jamestown to Sandy Hook and a little farther to the very basic cabin, getting there right around noon time. By the time we arrived the potatoes and been peeled and sliced into paper-thin slices and were hanging in a muslin bag in the tree. That was done to dry them - the chips were always very crisp and a lovely brown. Nothing like the Pringles of today. The "stove" was about waist high on the uncles, and about up to my neck. It was constructed of bricks and just large enough for two large metal pans, about 12 x 20 inches and about 4 inches deep. They sat on a metal wire rack and below was a shallow fire box. The fuel was wood gathered on sight and the frying medium was always lard
If the uncles had had luck that morning, we would have fish from the creek; bass, catfish, carp, buffalo and occasionally spoonbill. They would save the "air bladders" from the large fish so we could stomp on them - early day wrapping bubbles. No luck that day, the uncles would announce that they had "caught the fish with a silver hook" meaning they had bought them from Mr. Copher, a fisherman on the Missouri River. 
The menu never changed: fish, potato chips, sliced tomatoes when in season, sliced homemade white bread and canned peaches. There was home brew (it was very good) and orange, strawberry, grape and cream Nehi soda pop for the kids. The uncles also made boiled coffee in a black gallon coffee pot. For dessert, toasted marshmallows on the remains of the wood fire. 
Some days, we would get a ride in their small wooden motor boat, downstream and almost to the Big Muddy - that was always scary. The uncles would get out their hunting guns and let Uncle Bob do some target shooting. I think I got to do that once or twice, that really wasn't a girl thing.
My main thing was picking wild flowers, exploring the woods, swinging on a wild grape vine and the big challenge was trying to make a skirt out of paw paw tree leaves. They were large, long and oval shaped and I would pin them together in strips with sticks and then try to attach them to another strip. I can't remember ever being successful. Oh me!
We had a family car, that included the uncles as well. It was a '30's something wine colored Chevy sedan. That took us out of town, to church on rainy Sundays and was Uncle PM's courtin' car. Both the uncles did a lot of that. Uncle Biscuit couldn't drive, so was confined to walking to widow's homes or local ladies whose husbands happened to be busy elsewhere. The fishing and hunting vehicle was a black '20's something Essex. Uncle PM would "open her up" and let her "roll free" down the Fischer hill and on into Sandy Hook. The original "Dukes of Hazzard"!
We had a wonderful time.
Love, Mom

On Monday, July 15, 2002, at 02:34 PM, Ann Blystone wrote: 

Missouri Fish Fry

When Grandpa Jim and Grandma Mae were still living in California, MO, Granddady was always the fish fryer and he always either fried the fish on the screened-in porch or outside in the back yard. He had the neatest little grill - I remember it being about 2 feet tall and black. Now that my dad (and my brother Bill, and I) are the fish fryers, we use the gas burner on the side of our gas grill, and also always fry outside. I found a wonderful handled cast iron pot at a tag sale for 25¢ (!!) that works perfectly for the frying. Mom began the tradition of making a tempura-type batter to dip the fish in - and it's delicious!

For the fish batter: 
1 part flour (~1 C.) +more to thicken batter if needed
1 part corn meal (~1 C.)
3 - 4 T. corn starch
salt, BumHot (or cayenne) and fresh ground black pepper to taste
about 3/4 of a 1 liter (33.8 oz.) bottle of seltzer water

Mix all together until you have a batter that flows easily off a spoon - not too thick. If it's too thin, mix in a little more flour, if not thin enough, add a little seltzer.

For my seester Carrie's tartar sauce: 
~3/4 C. Hellman's mayonnaise
sweet pickles (bread & butter will do, or sweet gherkins), diced
onion, minced
celery (I think, says Care)
pickle juice
lime juice if you're going Caymanian
cider vinegar if you're going more American

(Apparently my seester is also a throw 'n go gal!) Mix all together and let stand until serving time. Just before serving, stir well and correct seasonings by adding vinegar, pickle juice, salt, pepper, whatever.

For the fish fry: 
fresh-caught fresh water fish fillets (use store-bought catfish and striped bass if you can't catch enough bass, crappy (Granddad's favorite), sunnies, bluegill or catfish)
1 - 2 large onions cut into 1/4" thick rings. Soak in water, then dry thoroughly before frying
oil for frying - any high-temp. neutral oil will do - so it's about 4" deep in a high-sided iron pot

Pour the oil into the pot and heat till a bit of batter dropped in it sizzles. Coat and fry fish - it's done when a fork stuck in it easily pulls back out. As it's done, place on a rack on top of a cookie sheet and put in a 250º oven. Fry the onion rings and as they're done, place on another rack on top of a cookie sheet.

Over the years, we've found that it's easiest to serve the fish and onion rings on the cookie sheets - not pretty, but practical.

I remember always having slaw with a mayo-based dressing with this, plus sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. It's one of my very favorite meals. WONDERFUL!!!


See you on Sunday!


Gathered 'round: various family members - and friends - from the 1930's to today, w/the roster ever-changing

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