by guest blogger Susan Sprague Yeske

There was a time when the arrival of April in the Delaware Valley meant shad for dinner, sometimes several times a week.

Longtime residents of New Hope and Lambertville, NJ grow nostalgic when they talk about moms who ventured down to the river when the Lewis family was bringing in the day’s catch. Happy for an inexpensive, protein-laden meal for their families, they took the fish home and found innovative ways to get rid of the many fine bones that are found in this member of the herring family.

Steve Meserve, left and facing camera, prepares his family's boat and net for commercial fishing on the Delaware River

Steve Meserve, left and facing camera, prepares his family's boat and net for commercial fishing on the Delaware River. Meserve is a member of the Lewis clan, which holds the last commercial fishing license in the northern Delaware.

A favorite method was to oil a brown paper bag, then roast the fish on a low temperature for hours, allowing the bones to melt away.

The shad still head upriver to spawn, as they have for countless generations, and you still can buy shad from the Lewis clan today. At 1 pm this Saturday and Sunday you also can watch members of the family demonstrate how they use a huge net called a seine to pull in the silvery fish. Shad for tasting will be available prepared three ways along with other festival fare at the Lambertville Shad Festival, which will be held, rain or shine, from 12:30-5:30 pm each day.

Serving shad will be the Lambertville Station, which grills shad fillet sandwiches; Bell’s Tavern will prepare shad and shrimp fritters, and Hamilton’s Grill Room will serve samplings of shad roe (fish eggs) from noon to 2 pm each day.

Other vendors serving a variety of foods will include Lambertville’s Union Fire Co., which serves hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries and fried Oreos; Mom’s Restaurant, which will serve taco salads; Triumph Brewing Co., which will offered pulled pork and its seasonal beers, and Kindle Cafe, which will have vegetarian fare.

Marhaba, Lambertville’s newest Middle Eastern restaurant, will serve falafel and other delicacies, according to Ellen Pinero, event coordinator for the Lambertville Chamber of Commerce. Pinero said this year’s food line-up will have the most variety of any year of the Shad Fest, which celebrates the return of the fish to the river after pollution decimated the population.

Long before the Delaware Valley was colonized, Native Americans dined on shad each spring. A demonstration of their cooking methods can be found on Ferry Street, on the edge of the Union Square Food Court at the festival.

For parking and other festival information see the Lambertville Chamber of Commerce Web site or the Lambertville Shad Fest Web site.

Lambertville Shad Festival
Downtown Lambertville, New Jersey
12:30-5:30 April 24, 25, rain or shine

In honor of the Shad Fest, the Lambertville Station shares this recipe for shad with one caveat: it may cause a lot of smoke and set off your smoke alarm, so don’t forget to use proper ventilation.

Pan Blackened Shad

8-ounce shad fillet
black pepper
white pepper
cayenne pepper
garlic powder
onion powder
chili powder

Create a blackened seasoning mix by mixing equal parts of the dry spices, or adjust the amounts according to personal taste. Dredge the meat side only of the shad fillet in the spice mix. Preheat a skillet on the stovetop and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Place the shad seasoned side down in the hot pan and sauté until dark brown. Turn the fish over and cook until firm to the touch.

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One Response to Mad about shad – or not – it’s still a fun festival

  1. Karen McGinn says:

    If you have a chance, attend this festival. It’s filled with delicious food from the fine restaurants in Lambertville and New Hope, fantastic beer from River Horse and Triumph Brewery, and interesting people who love to share their knowledge. We’ve been going for the last 10 years and always have a wonderful time. Cheers! Karen McGinn

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