I don’t get sentimental about many things because I moved around a lot as a kid. I never really had one house that felt like a home. My grandparents’ cabin on Leech Lake was the closest thing I had. Most of my life it was where I went for weekend getaways, holidays, and many summer breaks. During those summer breaks I would I would fish from the dock and forage in the woods. We would have bonfires and play Ghost in the Graveyard with the neighbors. During the fall I learned to hunt ducks and grouse and squirrels. And of course when the lake froze over I learned everything I know about ice fishing. So when it comes to Leech Lake, I do get a little sentimental.
This month I was up on Leech Lake with my family and my sister’s family. I go to Leech Lake every year and have stayed at some really nice resorts. It is never the same as it used to be at my grandparents cabin but it is still a great reminder of some of the best memories of my childhood. This time up there was different; we didn’t stay at a resort, instead opting for an old family friend’s cabin that is right next door to my grandparents’ place. The Oberg’s were part of our lake family and there cabin sat right in between the cabins owned by both of my grandparents.
We spent our days sipping Bloody Mary’s and watching the kids jump off the dock. We took a couple of lengthy pontoon rides around the lake and into to town for lunch and we fished from the dock—the same dock we used to fish from as kids. Being back on that shoreline really brought back some old memories. I remember fishing off that dock and catching perch, sunnies, rock bass, and the occasional northern.
My kids caught perch and sunfish and rock bass and my nephew Henry caught a decent sized northern. I watched as my daughter and my niece would fish for a few minutes and then get bored with it and jump off the dock and swim for a bit. Then they would come back and try fishing again. They started the week needing an adult to help with the worms and taking the fish off the hook and by the end of the weekend they were doing it all on their own. They even managed to fill a stringer and we had our selves enough fish for a fish fry.
I remember catching a stringer full of fish when I was their age, and my grandmother frying them up with her homemade breading. I always thought that bread was some mystical concoction only to find out that it was just saltine cracker crushed with a rolling pin. It never occurred to me that the big chunks of crackers in the breading were actually crackers. I filleted all the fish and my sister tossed a couple sleeves of saltines in a bag and started crushing them. We use the standard flour, egg wash, and breading method and the Oberg’s even had an old electric fry pan that we fried all of our fillets in. We all ate until we were overly full and then sat back and remembered.
Here’s that simple-yet-sublime recipe:
Grandma’s Fish Fry
2 sleeves of saltine crackers, crushed as fine as possible (I like to put mine in the food processor to get a fine breading, but leaving the larger bits in there is ok)
1 cup flour
This makes enough breading for 10-12 panfish. To fry the fish, I dry the fillets then toss in flour. The amount of flour and egg really depends on how many fish you have. After dredging in flour, coat in egg wash and then roll in the saltine crackers. After the fillets are coated in breading, let the fillets sit for a couple of minutes—this is very important. This will help the breading stick. Pour in about an inch of whatever kind of oil you like into your frying pan, and heat to 350 degrees. Then fry the fillets for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve with your favorite tartar sauce, and enjoy.