If you live in Southwestern PA, then you’ve been to a fish fry. During the Lenten season, fish fry and Friday are basically synonymous. If you’re not eating at one on a Friday during Lent, then you must be working one.
Eight years ago I had never heard of fish fries – let alone fire departments, churches and restaurants all partaking in them during Lent. Maybe it’s because Catholics don’t dominate where I’m from, maybe it’s because as a Methodist I can eat meat any day of the week or maybe it’s just not something we do in the south, I’m not sure. But one thing I do know – my Lenten Fridays have forever been changed.
No, I’ve never loved devouring fried fish sandwiches paired with coleslaw, shrimp, and Polish food I had never heard of, let alone could pronounce, like pierogis and haluski. In fact, the only thing I eat on Friday nights is macaroni and cheese and French fries around 7:30 p.m.
I married into a fish fry working family and fire department. We spend our Thursdays during Lent preparing for fish fries and our Fridays slaving away at the fish fries.
Thursdays consist of making coleslaw, preparing the condiments, setting up the tables and condiment stations, labeling to-go containers, stocking the freezers, tearing apart to-go bags and setting up the kitchen.
Fridays are spent taking orders, preparing food, frying food, packing food, replenishing the condiment stations, passing out the food, cleaning trays and keeping the never ending line to as short of a wait as possible all while trying to fill orders on time.
After four hours of this, we clean up the tables and condiment stations, wash all the dishes, put way all the supplies, sweep the floor and eat cold leftovers before heading home to a warm shower to try to get the Lenten-permanent smell of deep fryer out of our hair before falling asleep.
Then there’s the people who are down at the fire hall even more days out of the week receiving the fish fry delivery, thawing the food, taking inventory, cleaning the fryers and putting away the dishes that dried over night.
It takes a village – or in our case the entire Norvelt Ladies Auxiliary and Norvelt Volunteer Fire Department plus a few extra – to operate a fish fry and keep it running smoothly. It’s practically a science, almost a mathematical equation, and if it weren’t for all of the wonderful people volunteering their time, the calculation would be off. It wouldn’t work. We’re a team, a puzzle if you will, and it’s difficult to operate with a missing member, a missing piece.
This year we’ve sold over 800 pounds of fish each week. The line is constantly out the door for the entire four hours, yet people come anyway. Most people have great things to say about our food and our service, and we could not be more thankful for the community for supporting us. If it weren’t for them, we would never be as successful as we are.
We have regulars who come every Friday during Lent. We have customers who wait in line, who call ahead, who eat in and who take out. We have local customers, customers who drive from miles away and customers who are trying us out for the first time. It seems Southwestern PA residents either visit the same fish fry week to week or they try a new one out every week.
No matter which type of customer you are – just know we appreciate you. We’re just regular people giving up our Friday nights to serve a large crowd and try to make an impact for the better.
And if you’ve never been to a fish fry, I highly recommend going to one. The money goes to a great cause and I can assure you you’ll enjoy the food and fellowship.