Night after night since the Sharptown firemen’s carnival opened July 31, the aroma of oyster fritters has risen into the evening air, enticing those waiting in line.
Usually, a little ketchup is squirted on the hot, batter-fried croquette that’s served between two slices of fresh Stroehmann’s white bread before the first bite of the popular carnival fare.
Deeply ingrained in festival tradition, and wildly popular, the fritters won Maryland’s Achievement In Living Traditions & Arts award, known as ALTA, this year, delighting ladies’ auxiliary volunteers who make each one by hand.
“Oh, my gosh, that was a nice surprise,” Chrys Gosnell, president of the auxiliary the past three years, said about the honor.
“But, to me, this award was earned by the previous generation because they are the ones who earned the right to call it a tradition. They are the ones who worked so hard.
“To me it’s Miss Dot Bennett, and Miss Elaine Ross, one of the ladies who cooked for us. She was the one who got the cooks together year after year, who made their schedules, who made them year after year and who passed last year,” Gosnell said.
“It wasn’t me or my generation. It was the generation before us that earned this,” she said, calling the award plaque presented to the ladies “really nice.”
Miss Dot, she recalled, “stood there night after night going through those oysters. The trick is frying them. That’s where the trick comes in,” Gosnell said.
The recipe has been around 100 years and passed from generation to generation.
“We have these ladies from San Domingo. These ladies have been helping us for years. Marva Goslee of San Domingo, she’s been mixing fritters over 40 years and she makes them so good. I’ve always been told it’s the black pepper,” Gosnell said.
“People stand in line an hour or more. But to me it’s not the recipe. It’s the carnival. It’s the atmosphere. The recipe is the same as it always was. We have served these year after year and it’s the biggest fund-raiser for the ladies’ auxiliary,” Gosnell said.
This year, the carnival opened July 31 and continues nightly, except Sundays, until Aug. 23. It’s success for the past 88 years – except for one year during World War II — is the result of fire fighters and ladies’ auxiliary volunteers working side by side, Gosnell said.
“They couldn’t do it without us and we couldn’t do it without them. We are lucky we can give them what we do. Other ladies auxiliaries aren’t as fortunate as we are,” Gosnell said.
“The festival wouldn’t attract the people without the cook tent. It’s nothing to go through 60 gallons of oysters or more on a Saturday night. There are nights when we go through 30 or 15, but the average on a Saturday night is 60,” she said.
That’s enough to fashion 900 fritters from oysters purchased at Harbor House Seafood in Seaford.
“And, it’s nothing for people to wait an hour or so for one. They are waiting out there, some of them, in line before the festival even opens,” Gosnell said.
“People come for the fritters, but it’s the carnival atmosphere they really like. People know each other and they just come out. They really like to come out.”
Reach Susan Canfora at firstname.lastname@example.org.