Growing Up on Muddy Creek:
Fish that still haunts several people
Fish stories come and go, but this is one that still haunts several people, I'm sorry to say. It all began with Uncle Walter (who wasn't really our uncle, but MaMa always taught us to call our elders by mister, aunt or uncle, but never their first names). Uncle Walter had drifted onto the Piper homestead, and made himself indispensible, so he kind of just stayed on.
Anyway, Uncle Walter and a couple of his cronies went up north to fish in Wisconsin. He came home in the Model T with a big wash tub of iced down Northern Pike.
There was little refrigeration in those days, so he gave one of them to the neighbor of my grandmother in town, Mrs. Barnes, whose husband owned a big department store down beyond the railroad on Christy Avenue. Mrs. Barnes had a reputation of being a gracious hostess and a great fish fancier.
Grandma asked Aunt Esther, who worked for my mother, if she would be willing to come over and give her a hand with the meal. Aunt Esther was a good cook, but leaned more toward soul food and stick-to-the-ribs type of fare. She was anxious to help Mrs. Barnes so she could see some 'high society' cooking for herself. Mrs. Barnes was glad to have Aunt Esther's help, since Mrs. Barnes had a reputation to live up to, and she had invited a whole passel of neighbors over to feast on her gastronomic creations. She soon put Aunt Esther to work making the garnish for the main course. Mrs. Barnes had read in the December Delineator about a fancy chilled fish plate, and she planned to prepare it according to the directions.
Now I must tell you that Mrs. Barnes owned a huge cat named Spiffy. He was a beauty, and she treated him like one of the family. In fact, Grandma Piper often said that Spiffy got better treatment than did Mr. Barnes.
When Mrs. Barnes got the fish cooked, she chilled it. Aunt Esther finished garnishing it with hand-cut circles of cucumber, boiled eggs, onions, olives, lemon slices and all those things that ladies know how to seduce a man with. They then set it out on the table in the screened-in back porch, and went about preparing the rest of the repast. This took some time, as you can imagine.
Both Aunt Esther and Mrs. Barnes checked the fish from time to time, as they cheerfully went about the kitchen putting out the fancy china, and the candle holders that had come down from cousin Annie's great aunt Lucy. The cut glass wine goblets were polished again, and the white linen napkins folded and tucked into the silver holders with the big 'B' on them.
Aunt Esther later said that she had never seen such fancy trays like the half-moon bone trays or the fancy fish-shaped dishes that Mrs. Barnes brought out. She filled the master salts, and placed the individual salt cellars by each plate. Oh, it was going to be a real gala.