I thought smelt was a verb.
But apparently it’s also a fish. And a festival. In Lewiston, NY.
I was sitting at my cousin Di’s kitchen table last weekend while she and her husband Lou discussed the Smelt Festival.
Except Di called it “Schmelt”.
“What is Schmelt?” I asked.
“Are you kidding?” Lou said, looking at me like I’d grown a second head. “You don’t know what Smelt are? Didn’t you ever go Smelt fishing when you were a kid?”
“Smelt? I thought you said schmeldt.”
“Yeah,” Di said. “Schmeldt”
And she wasn’t drinking.
Lou didn’t even notice Di’s Yiddish pronunciation of this small fish that is one of Western New York's most famous natural resources (not counting the Bills).
Instead he proceeded to tell me in way too much detail about how one goes about cooking Smelt “Just cut the head off, clean’m, put’m in a bag with flour and fry’m up."
Apparently they are quite the delicacy.
And you hold them by their tail. Kind of like a handle.
What Lou and Di didn’t know is that I have a psychological aversion to eating anything that looks like what it came from. And I can only eat fish if it’s shaped like a rectangle. Or a rhombus.
But if it’s shaped like a fish, with a handle resembling a fish tail? No thank you.
I didn’t want to rain on their Smelt parade, so I just nodded and said, “Wow. Sounds great,”
“Who’s the Schmelt King this year?” Di asked Lou.
“I think it’s Ken Bruschetta.”
“He’s always the Schmeldt King,” said Di, disappointed.
I guess he runs unopposed.
I asked Di if there was a Smelt Queen and there isn’t. I was about to get on my high horse and say something about how this is 2015 and women’s rights and affirmative action etc.!
But then I took another look at that Smelt King.
Yeah. I get it.