59. The Feast of the Seven Fishes

People are surprised to hear that I didn’t grow up with the custom of the “Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve. In the old days, when being Catholic meant no meat on Christmas Eve, Italians, especially in the South, made their meal of “sacrifice” into a feast. No surprise there. The traditional dinner includes fried smelts, eels, calamari, spaghetti with clams, and baccala, made from dried salted cod that is soaked for several days.IMG_4179

I first heard of the Seven Fishes when I moved to the Philadelphia area, and Italian-Americans I worked with would talk about their preparations. It seems to be a thing here. IMG_4152I decided I would try it myself, and every year now, we invite our dear friends the Tobin-Valellys to join us. My daughter Maria and I plan for weeks, and she and I do the cooking, an all-day affair.



Part of the fun is going to the Italian Market in South Philly for the shopping. Everyone’s in fine spirits, even with the long lines to get into the specialty shops.


Keeping warm, just like in “Rocky”
Mayor Rizzo, keeping watch

We do our own variation, skipping the eels, but insisting on the baccala. Sometimes, in a pinch, we count Swedish fish and Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. But lately, we’ve always managed to make it to seven. This year: baccala stew, perciatelli pasta with sardines, crab cakes, baked scrod, salmon risotto, tuna with canneloni beans, shrimp cocktail, and clams oregonata.

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