Southern fish fries….a tradition worth saving

Published 11:05 am Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A fish fry in the South has been a popular family and friend outing for decades.  A true southern gentleman would catch’em, clean’em and fry’em.

Most southern fish fries traditionally served french fries, hushpuppies, cole slaw and, oh yea, don’t forget the sweet tea. I’m confident that the infamous Andy Griffith would say umm…umm good, from just the aroma which surrounds a fish fry.

I can remember as a small child having fish fries at our home on Saturday afternoons. There, cars would almost surround our entire block. My father and the Decatur County Georgia Sheriff were best friends at that time and he would invite him and all the deputies over for these cookouts.  Some Saturdays there might be as many as a half dozen or so sheriff vehicles “surrounding” our home. I’m sure anyone that didn’t know my family, must have wondered just what the heck what is going at the Cowart’s house.

Now, way down in South Georgia, cheese grits were a staple at most fish fries. I’m not sure that’s the Carolina way though. When we hosted our first fish fry here and I mentioned fixing cheese grits with the fish I got some strange looks from my colleagues at work.

Another staple from South Georgia was a concoction known as Swamp Gravy. It’s similar to gumbo, only without okra. It’s made from fish drippings, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, corn and cornmeal. Then, of course, there are a dash or two, or three, of some secret spices that I can’t tell ya about, or I’ll have to kill you.

It never really mattered much what kind of fish my father was frying.  People just loved getting together and having fun. The kids would play catch, hide-n-seek, tag or some other outdoor games. The ladies would all sit around and talk, laugh, swap recipes and, of course, share all the latest gossip. I’m sure the gentleman would swap some fishing stories, talk about the latest fishing tackle and maybe, just maybe, tell a tall tale, or two, or three.

There was no better way for a young child to spend Saturday afternoons in the summer than with an old fashioned southern fish fry.

It’s funny as the years have passed how my role has changed at a fish fry. Now I’m one of the old guys catching, cleaning, cooking, sharing fish stories and, of course, telling a tall tale or two.

Times like these are of the highest quality and I hope my family and friends will continue this tradition for years to come. Hopefully, the younger generation will carry on this great Southern tradition and hand it down to the next one.


Joe Cowart is Publisher of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7218.