Smelting meant Spring is almost here!
When the ice was off Mascoma lake and you could hear the brooks running, and the snow was only under the deepest trees in the woods….it’s time to go smelting! My father would come home from work “We’re smelting tonight!” he would shout. I had no clue what he was talking about. As the dusk slowly creeped into night he would grab the long handled dip nets and gather the 5 of us. My brothers were so excited and I wanted to stay home with my mother and sister, watching The Flintstones and eating popcorn. But as the oldest, is was my job to make sure none of my 4 brothers drowned.
We piled in the car with the dip nets , buckets and my Grampa and headed for the head of the lake. A little bridge crossed the stream there and my brothers were stationed along the edge of this brook with the nets and with a quick lesson from my Dad, I was on my own. Smelt are like mini Salmon. They swim upstream to spawn. You shine a flash light on the water and dip the net in to get the fish. Sounds simple but other factors come into play. The water is icy and the brothers aren’t coordinated so some end up in the water. There’s a lot of crying involved.
Finally we have our 7 gallons of smelt. The limit is a gallon per person and this is the reason why it’s good to have lots of kids even though most of them are under the age of nine. My mom was excited by the full buckets. Next step, dump them in the sink. She washed them and with her scissors, cleaned them. She would cut off the heads and open the belly. Her thumb would run down the middle of the cut cleaning the guts out. Then, back into clean water. Then she would put them on newspaper to dry them, flour and fry them. Nothing tastes better than smelt in the cold of spring. They have a mild taste and the crunch is like a really good fish fry.
You can buy smelt in the frozen fish department, and I do this sometimes but the flavor isn’t the same as fresh! I’ve included basic instructions for your fry!
1.Whisk together flour and salt in a pie plate. Dredge smelt in flour mixture, coating both the outside and cavity of the fish.
2.Heat oil in a frying pan 1/4-inch deep over medium heat until hot. Place fish in the hot oil; fry until crisp and firm, 2 to 3 minutes each side.
Serve with tartar sauce.