Monday, December 31, 2007

Catfish Mediterranean

New Year’s Eve…out with the old, in with the new!

It’s that time of year when we evaluate priorities, make resolutions and vow to stay with them through at least the next 365 days.

That’s just what Jim and Karen Weir did back before the new Millennium. As Jim prepared to retire from his career as an airline pilot, he thought about the family home place in Central Alabama. It was an 1880s, Queen Anne farmhouse that had fallen into disrepair, but he and Karen craved family connection.

“Our main reason for moving here was establishing roots for our grandchildren,” Karen said. “I never had that, because my family moved a lot.” Plus, she really liked the countryside around Gastonburg, a Wilcox County hamlet right in the middle of Catfish Country!

So Jim, the pilot/Air Tran owner/plus part-time dentist, and Karen, the architectural designer, moved here from Miami in 2000, re-did the house and soon became active in local culture. That included membership in Arts Revive and Master Gardeners, work as a volunteer museum guide and adjusting taste buds to different cuisine.

The fish they previously cooked and ate came from the Caribbean. “We had our first catfish here in Alabama,” Karen noted. “We ate the typical catfish, hushpuppies, coleslaw thing, and since I’m a cook, I started using catfish in interesting recipes. My husband loves Italian, so I concocted recipes that normally use chicken in a simmered sauce with pasta.”

The result was Karen’s Catfish Mediterranean recipe. It’s similar to chicken cacciatore and quite tasty, especially the second day. She cuts the fish into chunks so the fish holds up well in the sauce. “Catfish is a very neutral fish. You can use it in almost anything, and almost any recipe where you use chicken, you can use catfish,” she said.

Meanwhile, Jim found an after-retirement job flying Bonnie Plant Farm jets to locations around the U.S., and Karen began painting and displaying her artwork. They own a small plane as well and use it to visit friends and relatives who live too far away for easy travel by highway. Karen also designed an antique farm tools display along Alabama Highway 5. So if you are ever down that road, look for the sign that says “Gastonburg.” The mule-driven farm implements are nearby.

Oh yes, one of Karen's favorite drives is by the catfish ponds on Highway 5 when the mist rises off the water in the morning or when the sunset glows upon it in the evening.

Here’s Karen’s recipe.


Serves 6

3-4 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
6 medium catfish fillets cut into 2" x 2" pieces
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
2 cleaned medium carrots, finely diced
1/2 green bell pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
2 cans "Italian style" diced tomatoes
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups consommé or water
1 cup button mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/2 cup black olives, chopped
Basil, oregano, lemon juice, kosher salt, ground pepper to taste

Fry diced bacon until crisp. Remove onto paper towels. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon grease, and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cook onion, garlic, carrots, celery and ground pepper until soft. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, consommé (or water) and stir well. Add catfish pieces and simmer gently until done (until fish flakes) and sauce slightly thickens. Add olives, mushrooms and seasonings, and simmer for several more minutes. Taste to correct seasoning. Add crispy bacon last.

Serve over angel hair pasta with large salad and crusty bread (and a glass of wine?)

(Note) This is just as good over rice, and we also liked it on the second day. I did not use mushrooms, so my photo won’t look exactly like Karen’s dish.

PHOTO: Catfish Mediterranean

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Give a Taste of Catfish Country

Looking for gifts with taste?

Try a taste of Catfish Country!

I never really thought about giving specialty food until I opened a package of maple-pumpkin butter from New England last Christmas. Maple anything is not a Catfish Country item, so it was nice to have something other than muscadine jelly or Dallas County honey with breakfast.

Recently, I noticed some searches on this blog with the words “catfish holiday gifts.” I entered the search box and found that there are a LOT of catfish items for sale.

Catfish lovers would be pleased!

So would food lovers who have never had anything like Taste of Gourmet’s Smoked Catfish Pate and Catfish with Capers. The paté is an appetizer that’s ready-to-serve and won an outstanding hors d’oeuvre award in New York some years ago. It’s described as a “recipe borrowed from Scotland and perfected in The Crown’s kitchen.” The Crown is a popular restaurant in Indianola, Mississippi, just one of many Catfish Country towns!

Now, surf on over to The Mississippi Gift Company and check out the Corsair Fish Fry Breading. The description says it is handmade in Mississippi by a gourmet food entrepreneur, and a crisp fish fry is guaranteed! If there’s a cook on your list, catfish recipes are available in the Classic Catfish Cookbook.

From Mississippi, head “east” to The Whistlestop Café in Irondale, Alabama, and order a batch of their famous fish batter. The Whistlestop is where Fannie Flagg got her idea for her novel-turned-movie, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café.”

Now, if you want to make someone’s present really easy to enjoy, try the Lemon-Peppered Catfish at Omaha Steaks. The website describes these catfish as farm-raised, but I couldn’t find a place on the website that said WHERE they were farm raised, so I just sent an email to their contact person and asked.

“Raised in the USA,” was the quick reply! I mean I sent that email at night and didn’t expect an answer until at least the next work day. But I got it in about an hour! That’s what I call web customer service!

Well, I better get going…still have gifts to order before it’s too late! Enjoy your holiday surfing, and let me know if I’ve overlooked anything truly tasty!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Fillets (with Video!)

It's nights like this (cold outside and nothing much to watch on TV inside) that I like to scan recipe websites for something different to try. That's when I came across tonight's feature at My Recipes...Cornmeal Crusted Catfish Fillets.

A few months ago, SC Mom shared a Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Nuggets recipe, but this one is different, and it's taken from
Cooking Light magazine. It features Cajun seasoning and bacon drippings (yes, the old southern frying method).

I thought bacon drippings were a no-no nowadays, but you can always use a healthier cooking oil. However, that bacon really does make food extra tasty!

The neatest thing, though, is a video demonstration that goes along with the recipe. The fish is served with green beans, coleslaw with crispy bacon and roasted potatoes.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Colonel Stephens' Christmas Trees and Catfish

You know it’s almost Christmas when it’s time to cut the Christmas tree!

Around Selma, this tradition often becomes a family outing to Stephens Christmas Tree Forest. A child’s fantasyland of cypress and cedar, the farm is just 15 miles from town along a winding, wooded road.

Boughs of Carolina Sapphire and Blue Pyramid steep with fragrance that only live greenery can give, and the temptation to cut a tree that’s too tall for the ceiling is…hmmm… overwhelming!

Check Stephens, the Christmas Tree Man, is well known. His trees have not only sheltered gifts in our homes but created majesty at the state capitol and governor’s mansion. Active in civic clubs, church, the Army Reserve, politics and agriculture, many honors have come Stephens’ way.

But there is one thing that a lot of his customers don’t know. The gentleman who grows their trees also pioneered the industry that brings pond-raised catfish to their plates!

Stephens resided in Greensboro and was selling feed for Ralston-Purina back in 1960 when he and a company scientist had a chance meeting with a local dairy farmer. The farmer mentioned a fish kill in his bass pond and asked the specialist for advice about restocking.

“Stock it with catfish!” was the reply. But no one had fingerlings for stock. That’s when Stephens and the farmer, Richard True of Newbern, “decided that since nobody was hatching them, we’d start!”

They formed a corporation with another dairy farmer and began hatching fingerlings and stocking ponds. As the fish grew, they needed processing. So a few more people joined their effort, and Alabama’s first catfish processing company was born.

By the new Millennium, Alabama had nearly 25,000 acres of food-fish ponds and catfish sales of more than $80 million, most of it in the Black Belt.

Stephens later moved to Autauga County where he groomed his Christmas tree farm and continued growing fingerlings. Now, at 86, he declares the time has come to “hang up” the catfish operation. But this former Army colonel can never quit anything…perhaps just retire it.

Photograph: Check Stephens at his Christmas Tree farm

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Trends are In!

Have you heard about the fastest-growing dining trends?

Sustainable seafood is right up there in alternative sources along with local produce and organics.

The National Restaurant Association’s second annual “What’s Hot…What’s Not” food and drink survey has been released, and 1,282 chefs rated these items along with others as the “hottest new trends in U.S. restaurants.”

Sorry, all you food lovers out there, but smaller portions are also hot! The Reuters article revealing these tidbits and giving us some idea about how restaurants might serve us in 2008 can be found here.

Suffice it to say that catfish raised in U.S. farm ponds is sustainable, and diners don’t have to worry about consumption of antibiotics, hormones, iodine or mercury.

Eat More Fish!

Another recent Reuters Health article noted that studies are showing that senior citizens who eat more fish do better on tests of memory, attention, orientation, verbal fluency, visual conception and spatial motor skills. Whether the fish was fatty or lean didn’t seem to matter, and there may be something more in fish than omega-3 fatty acids that improves cognition, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Heavenly Pecan Pie

In honor of Thanksgiving, this post is devoted to pecans, that delicacy that ranks right up there next to turkeys on most southern tables.

Our family will have pecan pie, sweet potatoes topped with pecans and brown sugar, congealed salad with pecans and perhaps even orange pecan pralines if I don’t spend too much time on this computer! Now, while catfish isn’t considered a Thanksgiving staple around here, I found a recipe for Pecan-crusted Catfish with Ginger Orange Dressed Salad in case you’re interested!

We are lucky to be able to “harvest” our own pecans; rather, we are lucky that my father-in-law picks up the nuts from beneath his tree and sends them to us to get cracked!

At our home in Greensboro, we had several pecan trees…from slender seedlings to fat Stuarts. We picked them up for our own use as well as to sell to pecan merchants. I spent many an afternoon after school raking through leaves to be sure no pecan got left behind! Some were packed to ship to relatives who lived where pecans didn’t grow.

Pecans make great gifts either in the shell or toasted, glazed or salted. Put them in pretty tins or make a pecan brittle or pie. Now, I don’t do pecan brittle, but I do make a pretty good pecan pie, and its “secret ingredient” doesn’t seem to be included on any of the Thanksgiving websites I’ve searched. Not even Dear Abby’s Famous Pecan Pie recipe includes it!

The secret to a heavenly, delicious pecan pie is flour and the kind of corn syrup you use.

Forget the dark syrup and opt for the light syrup. Follow the pecan pie recipe on the syrup bottle, and add a heaping tablespoon of plain flour to the filling. The flour helps cut the overly sweet, syrupy taste. It also gives the filling a nice, custard-like texture that is easy to cut and eat. No more sticky pecan pie!

Heavenly Pecan Pie

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. margarine, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. plain flour
1 ½ cups pecan pieces, broken
1 9-inch unbaked, deep-dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir first six ingredients well, then stir in pecans. Pour into pie crust. Bake on center oven rack 50 to 55 minutes. Cool. Makes 8 servings

Thursday, November 15, 2007

It's a Wrap!

From big fish to small fry, it’s a wrap over at Leather District Gourmet’s Sustainable Seafood Blog Event!

Jacqueline posted a big catch with more than two dozen recipes, including two catfish recipes. Of course, one of those was mine, but the other came from NASCAR driver Ryan Newman. Check out his Beer-Battered Catfish.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WSB TV's Foreign Fish Special Report

Speaking of food safety (See the COOL post below), a Dallas County, Alabama, catfish farmer is featured in an Atlanta TV station’s special assignment on foreign fish.

I was listening to our local ABC radio station this morning when the WSB-TV report was mentioned. The full video report can be found on the WSB-TV website.

Browns farmer Butch Wilson is shown on his fish farm talking about how U.S. catfish producers can’t compete with cheap importers who cut corners on food safety. But, they can compete with anybody in the world provided the playing field is fair. U.S. fish costs more, but the health and environmental standards are strict and safe. Yet, when it comes to foreign fish, Alabama’s food testing lab rejects up to 60 percent due to the discovery of illegal antibiotics and other contaminants. The antibiotics are used because of what the report terms polluted production conditions.

By the way, Alabama is one of only a few states that has a seafood safety testing program.

Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science and Public Interest adds that “We don’t expect to get a dose of medicine with our seafood dinner,” but that can happen, and the Food and Drug Administration currently only inspects a tiny fraction of imports.

What to do?

Know where your fish and seafood come from! All grocery stores are required to post Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), but so far, restaurants are not. The report recommends asking your waiter or waitress where the fish was produced.

Catfish and seafood are just too good to have to worry about contamination!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


There’s some pretty COOL legislation coming up soon in the U.S. Senate, and it involves catfish.

Ever wonder where the fish you eat in restaurants comes from?

Not necessarily from the safe environments of the USA!

But, if the COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) amendment to the Farm Bill passes, you’ll know! Just like fish and seafood at the grocery store, restaurants would be required to identify where their catfish is raised. That could be as simple as adding the name of the country to the menu.

Makes sense to me! We know where our cars are made, where our clothes are stitched and where our kids’ toys are put together, so why not something as important as the food we eat?

There was a recent scare in the catfish industry when products banned for use in U.S. agriculture were found in some imported fish. Then came the trouble with imported pet food, toys and other products.

Now it seems that while 70 percent of catfish is sold in restaurants, one-third of the catfish eaten in America is imported from overseas, particularly China.

So, COOL would give consumers extra protection in the marketplace, and a bunch of newspapers are supporting it with editorials.

In Alabama, The Gadsden Times states: “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has noted problems of contamination in Asian imports before, but still inspections are far too limited to eliminate the possibility of contaminated fish making its way to U.S. restaurants.”

The Decatur Daily says that imports were hurting the catfish industry in Alabama “…while threatening the health of the people who never knew they were eating questionable imports.”

Other editorial pages — Dallas Morning News and The Orlando Sentinel.

Now, that's way cool!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blog Event! Sustainable Seafood

October is National Seafood Month, and JacquelineC over at Leather District Gourmet is sponsoring a sustainable seafood blog event.

All right...SOUNDS GREAT, but “What is sustainable seafood?” she asks.

It’s raising fish in healthy environments and harvesting them with the least amount of harm to the fish and their habitats. It’s processing them with the least amount of waste and educating consumers to make a difference through their buying practices.

Until I checked Jacqueline’s links, I didn’t realize how many groups there are keeping tabs on fish! Several sites list the best and worst seafood choices, and I am pleased that U.S. farmed catfish (while not from the oceans) is listed in the best- choice category.

At Seafood Choices Alliance, catfish is cited as getting “high marks from conservation groups for its reputation as a sustainably farmed fish.” That’s because it is produced in freshwater ponds and according to USDA, EPA and FDA standards.

So, I have submitted a tasty Sweet & Spicy Glazed Catfish recipe to her blog event.


4 U.S. farm-raised catfish fillets (about 6 ounces each)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon pepper, divided
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
Lemon and orange wedges

Preheat broiler or grill. Rinse catfish and pat dry. Season both sides of each fillet with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. In a small bowl combine marmalade, lemon juice, paprika, rind, garlic, ground red pepper and remaining salt and pepper. Brush about 1 tablespoon of mixture onto top of each fillet. To broil, on a rack sprayed with cooking spray, arrange fish fillets. Or place on grill over medium heat. Cook 6 inches from heat source until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Makes: 4 servings.

Photo & recipe compliments of TCI

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Back-to-Back Catfish

How 'bout that Todd's Taste of the Town!

For the second week in a row, catfish was featured in the restaurant segment on ESPN's College Game Day.

Tonight, sports analyst Todd Blackledge ate Catfish Acadiana at Walk-On's Restaurant near Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. Last week, he had fried catfish at The Catfish Hole in Fayetteville, Ark. So I guess you could say that catfish is a favorite dish of the Southeastern Conference! The TV commentators remarked about the back-to-back catfish segments, adding that fish is good for you!

This Cajun recipe used catfish fillets topped with crawfish etouffee and served over a bed of rice. Yum! Yum!

I guess y'all can tell I'm a college football fan! Yes, I'm still up watching the exciting fourth quarter of the Auburn vs. LSU football game.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Catfish Wins in Southern Living Cook-Off

October is a busy month for festivals, fairs and food cook-offs down South, and no bake-off is more prestigious than the Southern Living Cook-Off where catfish once again has proved itself popular.

Tuscan Catfish with Sun-dried Tomato Aioli recently won the Quick Weeknight Favorites category, and its creator took home a $10,000 prize. You can check out the recipe here on the Southern Living Magazine website. The dish will be featured in the January 2008 issue of the magazine and appear in the 2007 Southern Living Annual Recipes Cookbook.

Not only was a catfish recipe a category winner, the cook is not from traditional Catfish Country. Michael Cohen came all the way to Birmingham from Los Angeles, Calif., to prepare his dish in the contest finals. Catfish isn’t just a southern food anymore!

Catfish also found its way to ESPN this past weekend. Did you watch the Auburn vs. Arkansas football game on TV? Former Penn State/Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback-turned-sports analyst Todd Blackledge visited The Catfish Hole restaurant in Fayetteville, Ark., for his weekly Taste of the Town segment. He had their all-you-can-eat catfish fillets and hushpuppies, and he was impressed. I found a newspaper review of the featured restaurant here.

Have a great week!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Holiday Cooking - Blogger Style!

Sweet Potato-Raisin Coffee Can Cake
is a Thanksgiving tradition for our family, and it’s so tasty that it won second place at the Central Alabama Fair a few years ago.

While I claimed the prize, I can't claim the recipe. It came from my mother-in-law, who was one of the great, old-fashioned cooks of the South! I'm not sure where she got her recipe, but I noticed a similar cake (or bread) in the Oct/Nov Taste of Home magazine.

I first tried this cinnamon-seasoned delight on an autumn trip to the North Georgia mountains more than two decades ago. Mama G baked two cakes in coffee cans, wrapped the slices tightly in foil, and we snacked all the way to Dahlonega. Naturally, I HAD to have this recipe as well as a bunch of others she spoiled us with!

Now, you are probably wondering where the catfish went! Well, since this is part of Overwhelmed with Joy's Holiday Cooking, Blogger Style swap, I figured I would share a dessert that nobody has yet to turn down, and oh my goodness, it goes fine with fish!

Sweet Potato-Raisin Coffee Can Cake

1½ cups sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
cup water
1 ¾ cups plain flour
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon (I double this amount.)
1 teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
½ cup chopped nuts (I prefer walnuts.)
½ cup raisins

Combine sugar, oil, eggs, water. Beat at medium speed. Combine next five ingredients. Add to egg mixture, mixing just until moistened. Stir in potatoes, nuts and raisins. Pour into two greased and floured coffee cans. Cans should be about half full. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

NOTE: Small loaf pans work if you don’t have coffee cans. I often double this recipe and purchase four small foil pans and give these cakes as Christmas gifts. The cake is also good without the raisins and nuts. My children liked it better plain, so I filled one can with plain batter and the other with nuts ‘n raisins batter.

I mentioned Taste of Home’s sweet potato bread recipe. It is almost exactly like this one, except it adds more spices: nutmeg, allspice and cloves as well as 6 tablespoons of orange juice. The recipe is baked as one big cake in a larger loaf pan, also at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cajun Country Catfish

Cajun and southern country cooking are so intertwined that sometimes they just go together like live oak trees and Spanish moss.

Greensboro is oh so fortunate to have a few folks of Cajun Country descent who grew up with a ladle in one hand and spices in the other. Add a tad of creativity, and you have the ingredients for prize-winning cooks!

Roland Perry is one of them.

While his name doesn’t sound one bit French, he’s got the brogue to go with his background…raised on Cow Island, Louisiana, where he learned to cook beneath live oak trees on the intracoastal canal somewhere between Lake Charles and Lafayette.

His claim to fame in Alabama is chief recipe creator for a cooking team that won the Alabama Wildlife Federation’s Wild Game Cookoff several years ago. And yes, that recipe contained catfish!

Well now, farm-raised catfish isn’t wild, but all of Roland’s recipes adapt to this sweeter, healthier variety. The winning recipe was a mixture of flavors: catfish filets stuffed with crabmeat and topped with crawfish etouffee. He says this dish is written in his head, and here goes:

Split several 5-ounce catfish filets, and score them on the inside. Mix fresh or canned crabmeat with minced onion, cayenne pepper, garlic and butter (to keep it moist).

Roland recommends creativity here. Just add the ingredients according to your taste.

Fill the filets with the crabmeat mixture.(It doesn’t take much.) Grill, and top with crawfish etouffee.

Crawfish Etouffee (A-2-fay)

1 lb. crawfish tail meat
¼ lb. margarine
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 small bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic
1 10-ounce can golden mushroom soup
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 teaspoon salt

Use a black, iron cook pot or Dutch oven. Sauté the pepper, salt, onions and bell pepper in the margarine until onions are clear or wilted. Stir in the peeled crawfish meat. Lower the heat, and stir the mixture so it does not stick to the pot. Add garlic, and heat at least 15 minutes, then add the mushroom soup and green onions, and turn off the heat. Cover tightly and allow to simmer about 10 minutes. Serve the etouffee over the catfish.

Roland, who retires this week from his job as district conservationist for the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, will likely be doing even more cooking in his “ free time” ahead. He already has a reputation around town as a great cook. He’s cooked for dove hunt crowds of 75, helped start the crawfish festival in Faunsdale, cooked at Greensboro’s catfish festival and written a Camphouse Kitchen column for Gulf Coast Outdoors magazine.

In his column, he encouraged creative cooking. “Creativity is seeing what everybody else sees, only seeing it in a different way. Everybody can be creative,” he wrote.

“Creative” to Roland meant trying all kinds of cuisine as well as cooking methods. On summer Sundays, his family would gather with friends for an outdoor fish fry. They used a black iron pot that sat on a tripod over hot coals, and he gathered firewood for cooking and Spanish Moss for a fish bed. The moss was placed next to the frying pot, and when the fish was done, it was placed on the moss where it absorbed the cooking oil from the fish, a method that he says works better than today’s paper towels. While hog lard was used back then, today he recommends peanut oil.

“Catfish was the big thing down there,” he said, so he felt right at home when he moved to the “other Catfish Country” around Greensboro, and he says he's here to stay!

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Catfish Diaries

Catfish Country has gone big-time COUNTRY!

A diary about life at Newbern’s Prairie View Farm is featured in the October/November issue of Country Magazine. Some of you farm girls or country girls-at-heart might subscribe to it…or perhaps to its sister publications: Country Woman, Reminisce, Birds & Blooms and Taste of Home.

Jean Watson, the catfish farm girl whose photos are featured in Where Eagles Fly, shares events for the week beginning July 22. She writes about life in Newbern and the ups and downs of farming 200 acres of catfish ponds. She did the photographs as well, and they are wonderful depictions of typical farm tasks such as harvesting fish and working on paddlewheels.

She just happened to be writing the diary during the middle of this year’s extreme drought, so she describes how paddlewheels must keep turning to stir extra oxygen into the water. If oxygen gets too low, fish can get sick, and sometimes whole ponds of them can be lost. Then, there’s the day that the well for their house and shop ran dry!

She also mentions food safety, an issue that has been in the news concerning some imported foreign products, including catfish. She assures readers that domestic catfish production is closely monitored by our government, meaning we don‘t have to worry about banned medications, carcinogens or other pollutants in U.S. fish. Whatever goes into the pond is USDA, EPA or FDA approved. Prior to harvest, samples of the fish are tested by the processor, and that prevents us from having to swig a quart of sweet tea to drown out off flavor!

While the Watsons have a farm manager and two other employees these days, they started their farm without any extra help…just themselves and their two sons. If the fish needed oxygen during the night, the whole family pitched in to save the crop.

Jean and her husband, Byron, say that producing catfish is a “dream come true.” Their boys are grown now, but Jean told me that coming home to the farm “is like heaven to them. They can come home and all their cares go away.”

Photo: The low water level on the drain pipe in this Prairie View Farm pond shows the severity of this year's drought.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Almost Autumn

Here we are…end of summer, almost autumn!

Goldenrod is beginning to unwrap its glorious sunny foliage. Bugs are bolder, and spiders spin their webs with abandon.

Home, family and food bloggers rearrange rooms and recipes, and some have posted pictures of shiny red apples and scrumptious ways to eat them. Gourds and pumpkins are getting attention too. Meanwhile, other blogs had end-of-summer tea parties.

Here in the Black Belt, this is the season for sweet potatoes and a hundred ways to cook them. It’s also when the catfish really gets around and re-introduces himself. He reigns as mascot of the Alabama Tale-Tellin’ Festival in Selma on Oct. 12 and 13 and appears as the catfishmobile in holiday parades.

His popularity at Tale-Tellin’ is aided by nationally known storytellers who reel in their audience with comedy, music and delightful tales about the South, including ghost stories and folk remedies told by festival founder Kathryn Tucker Windham.

For those of you who don’t know The Ghost Lady, she’s an award-winning author, storyteller, photographer and cook. She’s also an octogenarian who still travels to places like Jonesborough, Tenn., where she’s featured at the National Storytelling Festival.

When I first moved to Selma as a young wife and reporter, she lived across the street. Not long after we moved in, she brought us a cake…sorry, I don’t recall what kind! I mainly remember discussing writing and her journey from pioneer female police reporter… to feature writer …to book author. Among her 20-something books is Southern Cooking to Remember, and here are her catfish and hush puppy recipes.

French Fried Catfish

Cut catfish into slices about one-inch thick.
Pour enough oil into a deep cooking pot to completely cover the fish.
Salt the fish and dip the pieces in undiluted evaporated milk.
Roll in cracker crumbs or cornmeal and drop into hot oil.
When golden brown, drain, and serve hot with melted butter and lemon juice.

Hush Puppies

1 cup cornmeal
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup thick buttermilk
1 medium onion, chopped fine

Sift the dry ingredients together. Beat the egg in the buttermilk and add. Stir in chopped onion. Drop by teaspoonfuls (do not drop in big chunks) into very hot, deep fat, preferably fat in which fish has been fried. Turn when brown. Drain on paper and eat as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Paying Homage to our Heritage

Does your community pay homage to its heritage? Does it erect a statue or otherwise celebrate a person, product or event that gives the town its unique place in the sun?

For instance:

Birmingham has its Vulcan.

Dothan has the peanut.

Enterprise reveres a boll weevil, while Clanton uplifts the peach.

Monroeville hosts a play to honor Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

Pine Apple invites folks over for a Front Porch Tour to show its hospitality.

Here in Selma, we celebrate ghosts in the fall and historic homes in the spring.

Over in Greensboro, homage is paid to the catfish. I don’t know of any monuments erected to the product that changed the town’s future, but the fish with whiskers adorns water tanks and welcome signs.

Elsewhere in the region, the catfish is honored as the Tale-Tellin’ Festival’s mascot. It has its own catfishmobile, and a radio station uses Catfish Country for its handle. Past catfish festivals have crowned many queens, and the catfish fry is practically the official meal. Oh yes…the fish recently got its own book!

The catfish certainly deserves all this attention and more! In the Black Belt—where all kinds of studies deem dire statistics for whatever is being measured — Hale County ranks near the top in the nation for production of catfish! It’s the county’s best performing farm crop ever, and back when other enterprises went bust, catfish saved many a family farm and and created new support businesses.

The actual impact will soon be known when Auburn University releases an extensive economic study about Alabama’s catfish industry. Once the facts are out, we may just have to build a monument to the catfish!

What is unique about your community’s heritage?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Cornmeal-Crusted Catfish Nuggets

SCMom in Ohio posted a comment a while back to Triple-Digit Dinner. She said her family loves catfish, and she fries it in a cornmeal breading. Now, she has sent me her recipe, and I am sharing it with you!
Thank you, Barbara!



STIR together ¾ cup cornmeal mix, 2 tablespoons paprika, 1½ teaspoons seasoned salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a large shallow dish. Dredge 2 pounds catfish nuggets in cornmeal mixture; coat lightly with vegetable cooking spray. Cook catfish nuggets, in batches, in a hot nonstick skillet over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes or until golden, gently turning to brown each side.

Barbara added that the nuggets can be cut into smaller, bite-size pieces.

Cris asked about a cornmeal mix substitute, so I found this recipe at

Friday, August 31, 2007

Pot-Luck? Try Sweet and Sour Beans

When it comes to pot-luck in Catfish Country (and let me just say that there is a lot of "pot-luck" here), the cooks have special recipes they like to prepare over and over, especially when the group’s food “critics” rave about their dishes!

Fran Pearce has just such a recipe.

Fran is a down-home, keep-it-simple kind of cook, and while her Sweet ‘N Sour Beans has a lot of ingredients, it’s one of those put-it-in-the-crockpot-and-forget-about-it dishes that busy folks love...which makes it perfect for Fran.

When she’s not keeping records for the family catfish business, this fifth-generation farm girl is likely working on community projects. Her community, which stretches from Browns 30 miles east to Selma, is her hobby. She’s active in the Black Belt Action Commission, Arts Revive and her church.

I happened to find her one day last week over at Selma’s Ceramics Arts Center, where she was helping plan the Arts Revive booths for Riverfront Market Day. “I’m not an artist, but I appreciate very much what arts bring— life and fun to the whole community!” she says.

As a member of the Black Belt task force, she’s had the opportunity to travel around the region. “It’s really fun seeing what art is doing to revive these counties. We are a gold mine!” she adds, mentioning cultural sites such as the Gees Bend Quilters, Marion’s antiques alley and Selma’s historic homes. She sometimes takes her grandchildren along, such as a recent trip to Gees Bend to watch the quilters, then to cross the Alabama River on the Gees Bend Ferry.

Meanwhile, she and husband David’s two sons are raising their children on the farm, too…making them the sixth and seventh generations to live there. It's a life that keeps them working outdoors and puts them a long way from school and church and big-city malls. But then, they awaken to morning mists that rise above the water and retire in the reflection of magnificent sunsets. Now that's a culture apart!

Photo: Jackson and Mary Ashlyn Pearce, front, with friend John Ross Bone ride the Gees Bend Ferry across the Alabama River.

Here's Fran's recipe:

Sweet & Sour Beans

Fran Pearce

8 bacon strips cooked & drained
2 medium onions diced
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup vinegar
1 can (28 oz) baked beans undrained
1 can (16 oz) kidney beans rinsed & drained
1 can (15 ½) pinto beans rinsed & drained
1 can (15 oz) lima beans rinsed & drained
1 can (15 ½ oz) black-eyed peas rinsed & drained

Pour all of the beans into a crockpot. Sauté onions until tender. Add brown sugar, salt, mustard, garlic powder, & vinegar to the sautéed onions. Bring to a boil. Pour over beans. Cook on high 3 to 4 hours. Makes 15 to 20 generous servings.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fish Sticks (Baked) Are Back!

Remember fish sticks?

My mother bought them and served them for lunch...rather often. I always thought there was more crust than fish and wondered what kind of fish I was eating. (I was a very picky eater as a child, and some folks might still call me picky! But hey, I just like to know what I'm being served.)

Well, fish sticks are back...over at Organic Authority.Com, and they are healthy, homemade and hmmm, made from catfish! These Fish Sticks in a Flash can be made in about 10 minutes, and they are baked, not fried!

Another post at the same site offers a remoulade dipping sauce, just right for these fish sticks.

So, if you are after natural and organic or just plain good and something kids will like, check it out!

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Great American Cookout

What’s your best “excuse,” (well, “reason”) for having a cookout?

In Catfish Country, it can be anything from church suppers and family reunions to rehearsal parties, tailgate picnics or weekends at the river.

During my childhood, the “excuse” was relatives who came to visit.

Cookouts usually meant hamburgers, hotdogs, a slab of ribs or pile of catfish, and all it took for us to bring out the big, iron pot was a kinfolk or two and especially half a dozen.

With large families on both sides, our relatives were scattered from Maryland to Ohio to Arizona to Florida. Some came for 10 days in the summer, others for a few days here or there. An Ohio uncle joined us every year at Christmas, and that doesn’t begin to cover all the family in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee!

Our place was the perfect stop. We lived in a big, high-ceilinged house with several bedrooms and a wraparound front porch. Extra room might be had in one of our duplex cottages, part of Greensboro’s first motel. Plus, my dad loved to talk and my mother loved to cook, and there were lots of cousins for us to play with.

While family fish fries once meant bass or bream from a river or pond, the meaning of “fish fry” eventually changed to catfish that were raised in ponds near town.

The kinfolks were enthused, and at the end of their visit, often stopped by the processing plant to pack coolers with fillets for the trip home.

Well, let’s see. No kinfolks are visiting, but August is National Catfish Month, and Labor Day is right around the corner…reasons enough!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Triple-Digit Dinner

What do you cook for dinner on the
twelfth day of triple-digit temperatures?

Twelve straight days of 100-degree or higher temps happened here last week, and I was not in the mood to heat up a kitchen that was already struggling to maintain a “cool” 80 degrees! Yes, despite central air conditioning, we were “lucky” to have an 80-degree reading inside while the heat outside registered 104! And that doesn’t include the heat index which was likely somewhere above 110!

It was too hot to fry, too hot to grill out and much too hot to boil. I didn’t even want to bake. So, I decided to throw together a bit of this and a little of that with what I had on hand. We ended up with a light, tasty meal that my family really enjoyed.

Here’s our Triple-Digit Dinner: Broiled Marinated Catfish Fillets, Coleslaw with Dressing, Honeydew with Blueberries, Black-eyed Peas, and Wheat Rolls.

Prepare your favorite coleslaw recipe a few hours ahead of time, then pop into the frig to just chill out!

Slice the honeydew melon (pre-chilled) into cubes, then sprinkle liberally with blueberries. (I thawed some that we picked over at my father-in-law’s house.) Add a little sugar if you desire a sweeter taste. Mix and refrigerate.

I’m assuming you have leftover black-eyed peas, because like I said, I was NOT in the mood to boil anything! Just zap the leftover peas in the microwave.

For bread, get some bakery wheat rolls, and take them straight from the sack. No warming necessary.

And here’s the catfish…

Toasted Sesame Catfish Fillets

4 catfish fillets (3 ounce to 5 ounce), fresh or frozen

Toasted Sesame dressing

Lemon-herb seasoning

Salt and pepper

Thaw fillets if frozen. Rinse in cool water and pat dry with a paper towel or drain well.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then coat with a toasted sesame dressing. For the best flavor, let marinate a few hours in the refrigerator. Sprinkle fillets with lemon-herb seasoning.

Place fillets on a pan and broil several minutes until tender and flaky.

Note: These fillets taste great with the marinade alone. But since we like a lot of lemon on our fish, and I was out of lemons and bottled lemon juice, I tried the lemon-herb seasoning. That touch of lemon really added extra zest.

This week, we are back to triple-digit temperatures! Hmmmm…what’s for dinner tonight?
I’ll let you know!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Where Eagles Fly

I first knew Jean in high school as my best friend’s big sister. Just like her little sister, she could do anything.

She still can.

Years ago, I marveled at how she cut out some paisley-print fabric and stitched up a tent dress one Saturday, finished and hemmed just in time for her date that night.

The other day, I marveled at pictures she took on a recent photography safari to Africa and hundreds she has taken on the Newbern catfish farm that she and her husband, Byron, own.

A retired biology teacher, Jean has put the nature she loves into pictures that she prints and frames herself or makes into note cards, a business known as Nana’s Nature Photos. Some have been published in Country Magazine, and some are sold in gift shops and galleries throughout the Black Belt and as far south as Orange Beach. I would say her prints rival those of Abraham Lincoln over at the Brookville, Ohio, Daily Photo Blog.

Among my farm favorites is one she took of an eagle, wings widespread, tiptoeing to take flight right there by a fish pond! She has a treasure trove of macros — viceroy butterflies, frogs in a pond, hummingbirds in flight and flowers galore.

Using a tripod to stabilize her camera, “Nana” may spend the day on her front porch, accompanied by two Labrador retrievers and her telephoto lenses, shooting maybe 200 pictures “to get six really good ones.”

With her science background, she looks beyond the crispy clear photograph. “I love the mechanics of all these animals,” she told me, and she’s talking not just about the fauna out the front door but about the African species she “shot.” That would include everything from flamingoes to elephants and leopards to giraffes.

She’s living a biologist’s dream…on a farm…close to nature…sharing her knack for capturing creation with her grandchildren, her community and folks who appreciate pictures that just can’t be described with words.

Foodie Blogroll

I just joined a community of foodies, the Foodie Blogroll!
Check it out on my sidebar. There are links to blogs about all kinds of delicious cuisine, posted by people who either cook food, just talk about food, or in most cases, both cook food and talk about it. A lot of 'em also take fantastic photos of the food they cook.
I am inspired to try some dishes that I have never had before!

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Few Good Catfish Recipes

Hi y'all.
I just surfed over to the Yahoo Homepage and noticed its food feature. Pecan-crusted catfish from Martha Stewart is on the Yahoo Foods suggested menu for Thursday. You mix crushed pecans with cornmeal, then dredge your fillets in the mixture. Now I know another way to use those pecans I've got in the freezer!

Some others are Sauteed Catfish with Mustard Sauce and Catfish and Potatoes with Salsa Verde from Food & Wine.The latter recipe calls for anchovy paste. I've never tried that ingredient, but the new potatoes sound good! Another one is Jerk Catfish.

Hmmmm...I believe that might have a Caribbean flavor.