Tuesday, Mar 20, 2018
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Fish frys are a reason to celebrate

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    Donna Burmeister, center left, works on battering fish for frying as Brian Dooley, 16, right, prepares baked fish during the first Lenten Friday Fish Fry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in South Toledo in 2016.

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    Tim Kuhlman, left, helps his son Scott, 2, get set up to eat their fried fish dinners together during the first Lenten Friday Fish Fry in 2016.

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The weeks leading up to Christmas are known as the holiday season. It’s debatable whether this starts at Thanksgiving, at Halloween, or — as it often seems with retailers bringing in festively themed merchandise and radio stations playing “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” earlier and earlier each year — at the Fourth of July.

The weeks leading up to Easter ... well, technically that’s Lent. But for people like me, whose lives revolve around our meals, it’s fish fry season.

The Catholic Church, in which I was raised, forbids eating meat on Lenten Fridays. That means no “chickens, cows, sheep or pigs,” according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. But fish and shellfish are permitted.

I can remember meals of fish sticks and macaroni and cheese when I was growing up. It’s a classic meal as iconic as tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches or Oreos and milk. These days, we’ve expanded our diets to include tofu and tempeh, pasta with pesto, and other more contemporary options that often have some international flair.

But the hearty, homey fish fry has remained a fixture. Many churches and service organizations offer fish frys as an opportunity to raise funds for schools and projects. (Many restaurants, too, offer fish dinners or seafood specials, but that’s not quite the same thing.)

There is so much goodness at a fish fry that it’s hard to fully describe. Partly, it’s a Friday night meal you don’t have to cook at the end of a long week. That’s always a bonus.

Part of its charm is the good and abundant food: There’s always a generous helping of fish (some are even all-you-can-eat) along with side dishes like salad or cole slaw, applesauce, potatoes, rolls ... the works. No one leaves a fish fry hungry. There’s so much food that you might not even need to eat again from Friday night until Sunday morning Mass (or, at least, the 4 p.m. service on Saturday).

But I think the best part of a fish fry is that you’re eating well and helping the community at the same time. You know the folks who are scooping cole slaw or macaroni, doling out french fries, setting out the bake sale goodies, clearing tables, battering and frying fish, washing load after load of dishes, greeting diners, and sending us all off with full stomachs and happy hearts are doing it out of love. They’re giving their time, their energy, and their smiles for a good cause.

Until we attended a fish fry at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church the first year we were in Toledo, my boyfriend, Craig, had never been to one. As we wound our way around the cafeteria, waiting patiently as volunteers fed so many people that it was reminiscent of Jesus feeding the 5,000, he was in disbelief. This many people would stand in a long line for fish and french fries? Really?

But the joy, the sense of community, and, of course, the good food itself all won him over. Pun intended, Craig was hooked. We are now regulars, to the extent that my schedule permits. We catch up with friends, we give hugs, and we make sure to stop at the bake sale table to bring home treats prepared by the PTA or other groups looking to raise a little money while leading us into temptation.

Fish frys will run each Friday until Easter. (Some will hold them on March 30, which is Good Friday, while others won’t because it’s a day of fasting.)

So be sure to find one and enjoy a substantial meal. There are almost as many to choose from as there are fish in the sea.

Contact Mary Bilyeu at 419-724-6155 or mbilyeu@theblade.com, and follow her at facebookcom/thebladefoodpage.

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