Have you ever worried what your next meal would be? I don’t mean which restaurant to go to for lunch or what needs to be picked up from the grocery store. I’m talking about really worrying about what you have on-hand to put on the table to feed your family.
Earlier this year, tornadoes ripped through Alabama destroying homes and businesses. Hundreds of Alabamians lost the contents of their pantries and freezers along with their homes and vehicles. Many people lost their jobs because their source of income was destroyed. Alabama is lucky to have organizations like the Red Cross, food banks and the countless families who donated food and supplies to help other families through these tough times. Along with the folks going through a financial crisis due to the spring tornadoes, there are people in Alabama still recovering from the effects of circumstances like the Deepwater Horizon incident, ongoing drought, the pitiful housing market and high unemployment.
I worked for the Department of Agriculture and Industries for almost seven years before I became part of a more than 25 percent cut to the staff last spring. Those of you who have ever been through layoffs, major health issues or other difficult circumstances causing you to lose your income know the conversation you have with your family is not something to look forward to at all. In fact, for many people addressing how to handle such a loss can mean a downward spiral into depression, anger, fear and, ultimately, an unhealthy home.
After I got my layoff notice, my husband, Jason, and I had the "what if" discussion. Jason said we wouldn’t go hungry because there is always plenty of wild game and fish available in our area. Our family is fortunate to live adjoining the Tuskegee National Forest that is open to public hunting and fishing. It was so reassuring to know I am married to someone who can actually provide for us that way if it came to it. To simply say my husband hunts and fishes would be a misrepresentation. If we had a little more freezer space, Jason could without a doubt feed us year-round.
With all the amenities of modern life it is easy to forget that not too long ago, along with farming, our fathers and grandfathers provided dinner by hunting. As Alabamians, hunting, fishing and having a backyard garden, if not a small chicken house, is in most of our heritages. None of us are that many generations separated from sustaining our families through homegrown or sportsmen’s means. It is important to Jason and me for our kids know where their food comes from and that we instill in them an appreciation for what is on their plate. It can take extra effort and some planning, but there is something very satisfying about being able to feed your kids meat or fish that Daddy brought home.
Each month this column will focus on a different wild option for your next meal. There will be recipes for the entrees along with some sides, breads and sometimes desserts. These will be meals that are economical, fresh, delicious and, most certainly, local. In honor of August being National Catfish Month, there are recipes for pan-fried catfish and a fish-scramble breakfast.
Not everyone has access to hunting land or a boat, but limb-line fishing for catfish is a cheap, simple way to get a lot of food that can last a long time. All you need is some braided cotton string, hooks and bait. You can go to a lake, river or creek even without a boat and set your lines before dark and expect to catch some catfish.
Jason recommends using live bait like minnows or pond brim, but you can also use chicken livers, hot dogs or worms. The best way to score a bigger mess of fish is to check your lines during the night rather than waiting until the next morning. Put your catch in the cooler, re-bait your lines and drop them back in the water.
There are lots of people in Alabama who have lost jobs or are now relying on one income who may feel like there is no hope, but there is always hope.? Having the best car or job is not the most important thing. The most important thing you can do is take care of your family’s basic needs and everything else will work itself out. If you find yourself needing to cut household costs for whatever reason, adding something wild to your next meal may be a great solution for your family.
With red pepper and Worcestershire, this recipe gives the catfish a little kick.
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup milk
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup cornmeal
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground red pepper
4 fresh-caught (or farm-raised) catfish fillets
½ cup margarine or butter, divided in half
¼ cup vegetable oil
About 2 Tablespoon chives, fresh from the garden or dried
2 Tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Combine egg and milk in one shallow dish and flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper in another. Dip fish in egg/milk mixture and coat with the dry mix.
Melt ¼ cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat, then add oil and increase the heat. Cook fish in skillet for about 4 minutes on each side or until it flakes with a fork. Drain the fish well on paper towels.
Melt the other ¼ cup of butter or margarine in the pan or a bowl; add the parsley, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Use as dipping sauce or pour directly on the fillets.
This is perfect for the morning after you fished all night.
1 fried catfish fillet leftover from the previous night’s meal, broken into pieces
6 large eggs, beaten
Add all ingredients to a large non-stick skillet and scramble together "hard" over medium heat. Top with fresh chopped scallions and serve with ketchup and cathead biscuits.
Christy Kirk is a freelance writer who lives in Little Texas.