Umpires will soon start baseball and softball games with their traditional call, “Batter Up!”

A late winter season involving the term ‘batter’ arrived in the St. Croix Valley ahead of balls and gloves – fish fry season. OK, it’s really a Wisconsin classic, but residents of the St. Croix Valley can hold their own, whether it’s measured by selection, side orders, price, or per capita consumption. Pound for pound, valley residents enjoy their fish fries. Hot dog eating champ Joey Chestnut may not stand a chance against a local favorite when it comes to a plate of fish.

How did the tradition come to be? One columnist attributes Wisconsin’s fish fries to three things, religion, Prohibition, and easy access to freshwater fish. Ancestors from Germany and Poland arriving in Wisconsin took the practice of abstaining from eating warm-blooded meat on Fridays during Lent with them. Their alternative choice was fish. Prohibition in the U.S. banned the production, transportation, sale, and yes, consumption, of alcoholic beverages from 1920-1933. Saloon and innkeepers soon introduced inexpensive fish dinners to draw crowds on Fridays. Name the fish - bluegill, perch, and walleye – Wisconsin had them in abundance for the Friday feasts.

And the side orders? Those innkeepers better have many of the following: coleslaw, potatoes – normally French fries, but some offer hash browns, fried potatoes, and even baby reds, dinner rolls, and condiments, starting with tartar sauce and lemon wedges.

2021 fish fries are increasingly important, akin to a religious miracle as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cast a dark cloud. Even with PPP assistance and We’re All In grants, bars and restaurants in the St. Croix Valley and across this great divide could use a boost. And who says fish with all the fixings is limited to Friday? Many of the restaurants have pivoted to offer take-out orders, including reserve parking stalls that rival NASCAR pit stops. Give take-out a try and start your own tradition.

If a beer or glass of wine go hand-in-hand with fish fries, then hungry and thirsty consumers may wish for a double play of sorts. There are plenty of micro breweries and wineries in the St. Croix Valley for residents to get out of their comfort zones with a new bottled or canned product. Look for an American Gothic IPA, French Toast Ale, or North of 8 Pilsner and pair with the take-out order. Brewers are creative. Comfort zones may become a thing of the past.

Challenges are ahead even with the rollout of vaccines to battle the pandemic. Batter Up! Let’s give COVID-19 the one-two punch in the St. Croix Valley with an old fashioned fish fry and beverage of your choice. From Main Streets to brewhouses, we got this.

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