By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
HOUGHTON — Most parishes and Knights of Columbus councils put their frying pans away after Lent. Knights and volunteers in Houghton, on the other hand, will only have a few weeks off before their next fish fry.
KC Council 3905’s year-round fish fries have been a staple in the rural farming community for more than 35 years. The fish fries take place twice a month during Lent, and once a month the rest of the year.
“I think one of the major reasons for the monthly fish fries is that it gets the community together and KC members involved throughout the year,” said Keith Gehling, KC Council 3905’s financial secretary. The fish fries also help fund Knights of Columbus projects and causes, such as the KC Vocation Fund.
The fish fries bring in crowds that outnumber the 150 people who live in Houghton. An average fish fry, according to Gehling, brings in 250 to 325 people. Lenten crowds are a little bigger. On one occasion, KCs and their wives served 400 people.
This statistic does not surprise former Grand Knight and longtime KC member Bob Moeller. Houghton is surrounded by farmland and similarly-sized towns. Guests within a 30-40-mile radius regularly fill the Knights of Columbus Hall for the fish fries. The meal also attracts people from larger communities, such as Mount Pleasant and Fairfield. A woman from Burlington rarely misses a fry, he said.
The main draw, he believes, is the preparation of fish. “It’s the details that go into it,” Moeller said. KCs pick up fresh-frozen catfish the Wednesday before the fish fry. The next day, KCs and wives clean the fish, careful to take out the bitter black membrane inside the fish. This, he said, is essential to great-tasting fish. They also prepare shrimp for guests seeking a fin-free alternative.
On the day of the fry, they cook the fish fresh as guests arrive versus frying ahead of time. “Guests might have to wait a little bit to get the fish but it’s always right out of the fryer,” Moeller said.
Guests are also treated to a variety of homemade sides such as potato salad and coleslaw, which are whipped up the week of the fish fry.
The other draw is the camaraderie and conversation, Moeller said. It’s a place where people can spend time with their friends and make new ones. “People come and can just sit and talk; we don’t make ‘em leave! They may be there an hour, an hour and a half. It’s just a laid-back atmosphere. You get to know everyone.”
While the times and dates for the Lenten fish fries vary, the non-Lenten fries generally take place on the first Friday of each month from 5-8 p.m. in the Houghton Knights of Columbus Hall.
It’s a lot of work, with at least 24 KCs and wives helping each time, but Moeller said the support of the community keeps them motivated. “We have a reputation for having the best catfish around! There’s been only two times in the history of the fries that we’ve ever cancelled.”