Amy Lawry of West Tisbury and Joan Fresher of Edgartown don't know each other, but they shared a connection on Wednesday when Mrs. Lawry's prize striped bass became Mrs. Fresher's dinner.
Each fall thousands of fishermen go out to catch the biggest fish for prizes in the annual Martha's Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby. Hundreds of those fishermen donate their fish to the derby fillet program. The fish are filleted, minutes after they are weighed in. Then they're put in cold storage and distributed among the Island's councils on aging. It is a good thing for a community by the sea to provide free fish to seniors. On the Vineyard each year the derby fishermen contribute as many as 5,000 pounds to the program.
All that the anglers are asked is to take good care of their fish.
On Wednesday morning, Mrs. Lawry showed up at derby headquarters minutes after the 8 a.m. opening. She carried in a large striped bass and handed it to Roy Langley, the derby weigh master. Mrs. Lawry's catch weighed 32.80 pounds.
Mrs. Lawry said she had fished with her husband, Harold B. Lawry 3rd the night before. He caught a 27.14 pound bass. The two caught the fish at 12:20 a.m. while shore fishing. Mr. Lawry said they used eels to catch their fish. (Many Vineyarders will remember the fish market that the Lawrys ran for years in Edgartown.)
Mrs. Lawry donated her catch to the fillet program and turned it over to Mike Harrold, 64, of Oak Bluffs. Several times a week, Mr. Harrold donates his time to the derby, cutting fish for the seniors who receive them. It is his sixth year as a volunteer. "I was talked into volunteering by Hank [Unczur of Tisbury]. I have been doing this ever since," Mr. Harrold said.
When he finished filleting the carcass at 8:15 a.m., Mr. Harrold turned it, along with the previous day's catch, over to Laurie Eagan, director of the Edgartown Council on Aging. With the help of Charlie Barr, 67, of Oak Bluffs, a member of the derby committee, three five gallon buckets of fish fillets were loaded into the back of her red car. The total weight was close to 75 pounds.
By 8:30 a.m., a team of two volunteers were at the Edgartown Council on Aging, taking the fresh fillets and putting them into plastic bags. Lidia Kassabgi and Bob Fresher of Edgartown quietly took care of all the fish. "The real credit for this should go to the fisherman," said Mrs. Kassabgi.
"They are a key link in the chain. This is a very good day," said Mr. Fresher.
Mrs. Eagan said the fillet program feeds a lot of Edgartown seniors and by 3 p.m. they will have given it all away.
The Island councils on aging get fish as follows: On Mondays and Fridays the Oak Bluffs senior center is a recipient (508-693-4509); Tisbury Senior Center is on Tuesday (508-696-4205); Up-Island Senior Center gets fish on Thursday (508-693-2896); and on Saturday Woodside Village gets fish (508-693-5880).
By 6 p.m., Mr. Fresher's wife Joan was singing praises about how nicely four striped bass fish fillets looked sitting in a glass cooking plate. Mrs. Fresher likes to entertain. On this particular evening she invited her neighbor Priscilla Sinatra for dinner. The three spent plenty of time together this past summer. This night was a continuation of a conversational thread about family and grown children.
"We are a community and I like to share food with our neighbors," Mrs. Fresher said. "This night is special. I have green beans from Comsog [Community Solar Greenhouse.] I have tomatoes and herbs from a neighbor."
Using a recipe from a friend, Diane Ball, Mrs. Fresher spread mayonnaise over the fillets. She explained that when the fillets are in the oven, the mayonnaise helps the meat retain moisture. She then sprinkled on pepper and a seasoning called Mrs. Dash, along with a topping of cracker crumbs and paprika for color. Prior to putting it all in the oven, she squeezed a lemon over the dish.
She put the fish in a preheated oven set at 325 degrees and cooked it for over 20 minutes.
"I have to say this is the most beautiful striped bass I've ever seen," Mrs. Fresher said, as she pulled the dish out of the oven.
When the husband and wife team learned who had caught the fish, the news brought each of them a smile. The Freshers have five grown children. Two used to work summers at Lawry's Seafood. Their daughter, Kathleen Samways, and son Brad had learned how to fillet fish there.
By 10 p.m., when derby headquarters closed for the day, Mrs. Lawry's fish had secured two titles: It was not only a winning entree in the Fresher household, it took home the day's first prize.