Friday, August 18, 2006

Lazy Summer Day This memory, like so many others, just popped into my head unanounced and I thought it might be worth sharing. Although the farm was a place of endless work,uncle R knew everyone needed time away from the daily grind to relax and have a bit of fun. One of my favorite passtimes in those days was to hike to the place deep in the woods where the spring spewed forth a continuous supply of sparkling water. The spring was the sole supplier of water to a small rill that ran through the woods for about four miles in a meandering, sputtering manner. It then crossed the big highway to our east and bubbled along amother half-mile or so to the river. All along the path of the brook were places where the water encountered difficulty overcoming natural obstructions, mainly large rocks. In these places the water would swirl in pools until sufficiently high to go over or around the obstacle. It was in these cool pools that I discovered a sizable number of brook trout along with an occasional perch. Most of these pools were several yards across and as deep as ten feet or so. The stream of water from them would grow in size during the spring run-off, allowing fish from the river to make their way upstream to suitable watery abodes in which to spend their lives. The fish were in great enough quantity and the water clear enough that you could see them swimming peacefully about, unaware that a predator in the form of an eight year old lad lurked above. The best way to lure these tasty swimmers onto my hook was by using a simple casting rod provided by Dad and the wiggly critters found in vast quantities in the manure pile. As there was little in the way of naturally occuring food for the fish other than passing insects, which they snatched in mid-flight during the hours around dawn and dusk, they'd happily attempt to devour the wormy treats I had to offer. Looking back, I can see it really wasn't very sporting to catch them this way, but to a young boy it was pure excitement to hook one large enough to be deemed a "keeper" and successfully wrangle it onto the forest floor. The size limit was six inches and I always carried a six-inch ruler to ensure the legality of my catch, even though no warden was likely to be lurking in the nearby trees. There was no limit or requirement for a young boy to be licensed in those days, but my aunt told me that twelve trout would provide ample food for the supper table, to be augmented by yeast rolls, fresh vegetables, baked old potatos, and fresh berries she'd collect from one of the many berry patches on the farm property. When I say "old potatos", I don't mean in the sense they were spoiled. These potatos were the ones harvested latest in the fall and stored in the storage cellar, which was really a cave the size of a large room we used to store food & milk products. We lined the cave with hay and ice in the winter and it maintained a temperature between 28F-32F year round making it a natural refridgerator. The late potatos were used for baking as they had thick skins and cooked more evenly in the woodstove's oven. I loved those thick skins and I would scoop out the potato flesh within, apply butter, salt, and pepper to the skins and devour them with great pleasure. As I prepared to fish I'd cut a small branch from a tree, strip it of leaves or fronds, and use the twigs sprouting from it as a fish carrier, putting the catch's gills on the small "hooks" formed by the remnants of the sprouting twigs. I also made sure to find a "gum spruce" tree to gather enough spruce gum to chew while in pursuit of supper's main course. My aunt must have been confident of my success as she never prepared meat for the evening meal in anticipation of pan-fried trout. As it turned out, there were always plenty of good size trout to satisfy all the diners. While there are numerous ways to prepare brook trout, my favorite will always be the way followed by my aunt. After I'd cleaned all the fish, she'd take them into the kitchen, and as the rest of the meal neared completion, she'd roll them in a bit of flour with salt added and fry them in bacon fat from the can that was ever-present in the cupboard above the stove. Just a quick turn in the hot fat on each side was sufficient to completely cook the tasty treat. No matter how I've tried in the ensuing years, I've never completely captured the essence of fresh trout fried in that manner. Either my memory is faulty or the combination of wood stove, rendered bacon grease, and anticipation of tasting the rewards of my fishing efforts made the difference. Either way, the smell of fresh water, the spruce gum, the cool forest with its mossy carpet, and the following feast will always stay with me as one of the most enjoyable memories of my long ago youth. Take care and stay well until next time I have the pleasure of sharing a memory or two.

7 comments:

Mies said...

A very nice memory to share with us, Mike. I can almost see that ragged little 8 year old with pole in hand seeking out his favorite fishing spot. I don't think you can ever capture the taste of the fish the way your Aunt prepared it, even if you followed her recipe to a tee. Your not meant too. That way it stays special to that memory.
Thank you again....

Patricia said...

Well, that's an insightful comment above, Mies. We can't entirely have a child's experience again. That must be why I can't ever recapture the exact taste of some of my mother's cooking, though I've followed instructions exactly.

Good story, Mike. Most city people grow up without nature as you knew it. Poor things.

Mar said...

Hi, it's the poor thing here, myself. This is my favourite post from you up to now. I can almost smell that cooked fish and it makes me hungry! Thank you for this post, I'd love to read more like this one. See you soon, amigo.

Anonymous said...

....a beautiful story and one which I can associate with...well almost. Trout were a delicacy where I came from and we fished mostly for pike and perch. We didn't always fish, either. We "gaffed" or "three hooked". We didnt really see the harm in that but the authorities did. Most of our fishing was done in the canal. The canal had an abundance of pike, perch and roach. The latter fish we were always told to avoid because of their diet/eating habits. I won't explain.
We did have a small stream though in which we had "sprats" - young trout - well that is what we called them. You could spend all day trying to coax one of those onto your single hook with a "blackhead" as bait.
"Old spuds" and rats. We grew our best spuds on bog land (peat land) and we would "pit" the spuds in a bed of hay and covered with hay and soil. No matter how well we did this the rats came foraging and managed to steal some. New spuds were nice, if they were not watery but the "older spuds" were beautiful if they were "flowery".
Bacon grease had a very pleasing flavor. It was really nice for frying bread or making potato chips. I dont think you can get any of this nowadays and now I have a craving - pigs beware...eheheheheheh

Sarah said...

Was that last comment from Seoirse?Sounds very familar.Yes Jim,you sure have a way of bringing back memories.It was my Uncle that caught the Trout & my cousin & I wandering thru the woods & swimming in the lakes. Boy, free & easy days those were.perfect Summer memories Mike.Thanks.

Sarah said...

It could have been Webbie.No my imaginatation is running wild.

Sarah said...

Sorry Mike,I said Jim,thats what happens when you have too many jims around.