Stories from Jaymi's childhood:
Toes for Catfish Bait
There was an undercurrent of excitement radiating throughout my Grandmother’s living room. The dirt farmer’s son was marrying the banker’s daughter. That just was not done. Neva Jordan was a determined young woman and she wanted my Uncle Johnny as her own.
Eight years later I felt that same undercurrent of excitement in the pit of my stomach. Every year the Jordan family spent a week at their fish camp on the Sabine River and this year they had invited me to come along.
As Uncle Johnny maneuvered the car down the dusty dirt road of the ranch, it seemed to me that we would drive forever, before we arrived at the camp. Finally the building came in sight. From a distance it looked like a big long screened in porch. In fact you could say that was exactly what it was; only it was screened in on all four sides with no house attached. The width of the building was two double beds end to end with a three foot walk way in between. At each end of the building there were six beds lined up opposite each other. In the middle of the building there was a cooking and eating area. In my young years of around nine it was the most marvelous place I had ever been.
My cousins and I couldn’t wait to change into our bathing suits and get to the river. I stood and just inhaled a deep breath it was so beautiful. The riverbed was wide and shallow. It was a mixture of rounded boulders and soft white sand. The water ran crystal clear as it slowly moved down stream, sometimes making rivulets of little waterfalls where it went between the boulders. Occasionally there was an area that would be called a deep hole. As I remember they were never any deeper than my waistline. The deep holes were where the fish were, according to my cousins. The second day the men folk called to us. “Come on kids we are going fishing.”
“But Uncle Johnny we don’t have any fishing poles?” I was puzzled by the fact that he only had a metal hook about five inches long in his hand. “We are going to gig for catfish under the boulders in the deep spots.” He explained as he led us to the river. When we came to one of the deep holes that had a large flat boulder in the middle of it he told us to gather around the rock. “Push your toes in as far as you can. We have to block all the escape routes if there is a fish under there. Watch out Jamie, you don’t want the fish to eat your toes.” All the cousins wiggled and squirmed until we were sure every escape route had been filled with our toes. When we giggled too much Uncle Werner put his finger to his lips to get us to quiet down.
Uncle Johnny’s voice was a harsh whisper, “Werner was that Sheriff Donough’s car that just went over the bridge down there? Duck down kids, and hope he didn’t see us. It’s illegal to gig for fish.”
I wanted to cut and run. My Mother would be mad if she knew I was doing something illegal. I didn’t though because just then Uncle Johnny reached under the rock and came up with a big catfish in his hand.
“Quick run up and tell the ladies to get out the scale we are bringing home a really big fish for supper.”
We kids ran excitedly up the bank trying to be the first to tell the adventure to the ladies. While the men worked together to carry the fish up the incline to the cabin and lift it up so they could hook it on the scale that hung from the tree limb. In awe we kids watched as the needle on the scale sped past five pounds, ten pounds, and fifteen pounds. Our eyes, big as saucers, we watched as it finally settled on seventeen pounds. “Wow” was all you heard.
Aunt Neva exclaimed “They sure grow’um big in Texas. There is enough fish here to feed the Texas Rangers. You kids better be hungry.”
“We are, we are.” We shouted in unison.
There was only one problem as the women began to clean the fish. They had to remove about ten pounds of river rock the men had stuffed down the fish’s throat.
Now looking back on that great adventure I think the whole thing was a set up from beginning to end. I don’t care though., it was a wonderful summer, and it was the absolute only way to eat catfish. About twenty years later one of my cousins opened the first restaurant in that part of Texas that served only fried catfish and beer. People came from all over Texas and he made a small fortune off catfish. His father put in a catfish farm to raise the catfish for the restaurant. The only problem was he made friends with the catfish and couldn’t bring himself to kill them. So they grew nice and big and recognized my uncle and would come to the surface when ever he appeared. One day he went to feed them and no fish came to the surface. He looked around the edge of the ponds and sure nuf there were shoe and tire tracks. Someone had come in during the night and seined the fish out of the ponds. About the same time my cousin sold the business at a great profit and went into the dance hall business where he could make more money selling liquor instead of catfish.
Jaymi's Orange Fish Recipe
Heat oven 400 degrees, fish will cook for about 15 minutes, depends on the thickness of the fish.
Any white fish, the amount that will feed your family
Oranges peeled and segments cut out figure at least ½ orange per fish. I actually like more oranges, but I love oranges.
Onion chopped about ¼ cup per fish. You can decide how much to add according to your family liking onion.
Purchase in the Oriental section of the grocery store a bottle of orange sauce. One bottle is enough for 4 to 6 people. I hate to say it but the more expensive ones taste better.
Mix the oranges, onion and sauce together.
Lay fish in a foil lined pan (easy clean up)
Pour the sauce over the fish
If the sauce runs over I will scrunch up the foil to make a boat for the fish to swim in.
Bake in oven until fish is flaky about 15 minutes. You can also broil this but I prefer to bake it at a high temp. When I have done thick fish I will remove the orange segments from the top of the fish at 15 minutes and then broil the fish to get it done without ruining the sauce.
I usually serve this with rice and cucumber salad.
Cucumber salad I add chopped garlic, white balsamic vinegar and just a touch of hot sauce. If I have chili paste I use that. I already have the onion on the fish, but if I am fixing it and I do not have onion in another dish I also add chopped onion to the cucumber. Let set in refrigerator for several hours for the best taste.