It was 1978. Or 1982. Maybe even 1990. No matter what the year, the conversation was always the same every week during Lent. "Remember, it's Friday. No meat!" my mother would remind my brothers and sisters and me at breakfast. This, of course, was met with a cacophony of groans.

What a chore it was to go a whole 24 hours without meat on those Lenten Fridays leading up to Easter. At school, it wasn't a problem. Hot lunch was either fish sticks or cheese pizza. It was the after-school munchies that brought about temptation. More than a few times, my brothers would come home on a Friday and admit that they had forgotten and had a McDonald's hamburger.

Funny how times change. I'm guessing that a great percentage of people today go days and days without ever eating any meat. In these times where people define themselves by what they ingest -- vegetarians, vegans, fruitarians, pescetarians, locavores, raw foodists -- it's almost more difficult to find someone who eats meat regularly than someone who doesn't. So it's funny to recall when it was an actual sacrifice to not have a steak or a pork chop for one day a week.

Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance, which marks the beginning of the period known as Lent. On this day, and the subsequent Fridays leading up to Easter, Catholics traditionally practice some form of fasting, most notably giving up meat.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that area fish markets see a boom in business around March and April.

More Information

THE SCOOP Vino & Mare Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant: 1229 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-254-1636, 203-292-5448 Swanson's Fish Market: 2439 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-374-1577 Health in a Hurry: 1891 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-254-5777 Catch a Healthy Habit: 39 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8190 Whole Foods Market: 399 Post Road West, Westport; 203-227-6858

"We see a big increase (during Lent)," said Andy Cardillo of Vino & Mare, the fish market and seafood restaurant in the Brick Walk in Fairfield. "A lot of people that don't usually eat fish will come in and they'll buy white fish, cod or sole, something that's not too fishy."

Cardillo explained the difference between the two fish: sole is thinner and sweeter, while cod is thicker and has chunkier flakes. Another popular choice is fish and chips that are fried up fresh at the restaurant. That appeases the land-lubbers, but as for seafood "afishionados" (it had to be said), there are a variety of options, such as calamari salad, lobster croquettes, halibut, tilapia, organic salmon and even whole fish such as snapper and branzino.

In addition to the fish, there are usually two homemade soups (maybe lobster bisque, New England clam chowder, or seafood gumbo), and Caesar salads in the refrigerated case. Or, you can do what the regulars do and call ahead of time to order swordfish scampi, tuna livornese, wild jumbo scallops, or any number of seafood dishes on the restaurant menu.

Over at the newly rebuilt Swanson's Fish Market, there are huge lobsters in the tanks and prepared fish such as potato-crusted cod, seafood-stuffed shrimp and tortilla-crusted tilapia. Just divert your glance from the bacon-wrapped scallops. Save those for another day.

The non-meat options today are so varied, as opposed to 20 years ago. I conducted an informal poll among friends and asked them, "Growing up, what did you eat during Lent?" The answers included lots of fish sticks and pizza. The Friday Fish Fry at Howard Johnson's (including "tender sweet" clam strips). Spaghetti with just sauce, no meatballs, no sausage. Tuna casserole and McDonald's Filet-o-Fish.

Fairfielder Susan Siverson said the staple in her house was "scrod and asparagus. It's almost like, not only did you have to not eat meat, it wasn't allowed to taste good either. I mean, what's wrong with cheese pizza for a month? Problem solved." And then there was the big winner: Arthur Treacher's in Southport. Michele Liskiewicz grew up in Fairfield and her grandfather worked at the local fish-and-chips restaurant. She recalled some of the most popular menu items: hush puppies, clam strips, lemon pie and the famous wide-ribbed steak fries.

In my house, our Lenten menu consisted of broiled fish (which, for the record, I would not eat), pancakes (yes, for dinner; don't judge), spaghetti, pizza and, the piece de resistance, salmon cakes with noodles, the one meal my mother could get five children to agree upon. Why we never had it any other time except Lent, I don't know.

And now, I will divulge my mother's world-famous, top secret recipe. Take a can of salmon (not fresh), one egg and a handful of Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Dump it all in a bowl and mash it together with your hands. Form the mixture into patties and fry in vegetable oil until each side is crispy. Serve with egg noodles mixed with ketchup.

Yes, ketchup. It's the only way. Over the years, I've tried to make them more contemporary. I've used fresh salmon, I've tried panko Japanese bread crumbs instead of corn flakes. I've made a yogurt-curry sauce and put the patties on toasted brioche rolls. They were fine, but nothing beats the original.

And, of course, it goes without saying that you could be totally radical and forgo fish altogether this Lenten season and go completely vegetarian, or even vegan.

Check out Health in a Hurry in Fairfield for things like Winter Miso Soup, Sea Veggie Salad and Groundnut Stew.

Whole Foods in Westport has a huge array of prepared vegetarian foods, not to mention a fresh fish counter.

Or, for the ultimate raw food approach, Catch a Healthy Habit in Fairfield has Mediterranean sandwiches, Pasta Primavera and Chia-Seed pudding.

E-mail Patti Woods at eatdrinkshopcook@gmail.com.

THE SCOOP

Vino & Mare Fish Market and Seafood Restaurant: 1229 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-254-1636, 203-292-5448

Swanson's Fish Market: 2439 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield; 203-374-1577

Health in a Hurry: 1891 Post Road, Fairfield; 203-254-5777

Catch a Healthy Habit: 39 Unquowa Road, Fairfield; 203-292-8190

Whole Foods Market: 399 Post Road West, Westport; 203-227-6858