Compliments sometimes have a language all their own.
So when a cousin recently told Judy Orr her fish and chips tasted "just like Nevada Avenue," the Ventnor Heights woman was thrilled.
"He couldn't have given me a better compliment," she said. "It meant it tasted exactly as he remembered it."
And that meant Orr was carrying on a family tradition that travels back generations and crosses oceans to her family's roots in Scotland and Ireland.
"My mom had come by the recipe from her mom - it's a family recipe," Orr said. "I make it for people I know will love it because it brings back all wonderful, warm family memories."
Those memories center around growing up with siblings and cousins in a close-knit family enclave on Nevada Avenue in Atlantic City.
"It was good growing up in Atlantic City," recalled Orr, now 67. "There were 12 movie theaters. You could go horseback riding on the beach in the winter months. For fun we did almost anything - bike riding, ball playing, we did it all."
Orr's parents were Robert and Frances Orr. His father had owned a hotel, but died in 1927 "so they got poor before the (stock market) crash," Orr said.
Her mother's parents had been Irish immigrants to Scotland. Frances Orr had been born in Scotland and came to the United States when she was 6 years old.
"My grandfather came over first, he brought one child over, then eventually they all came over," Orr said. There were six living children born in Scotland and one was born here.
Orr's parents had three children of their own, with Judy Orr being the oldest and the only daughter. But there were always lots of kids around the Orr house. That's because the family had settled in a twin house on Nevada Avenue in Atlantic City. Orr's aunt and uncle, Josephine and Scotty Crawford, lived next door with their three children, Bobby, Kenny and Frances.
"We were raised like brothers and sisters," Orr said. "A lot of times we ate at each others houses."
Orr's father and uncle were both bartenders. Robert Orr was well-known in Atlantic City, where he worked at the Strand, the Bishop Savoy and the Holiday Inn.
"He was very gregarious and outgoing. He had a following, people used to come to the restaurant because Bob was working there," Orr recalls.
Because of his job, Robert Orr ate at work most nights. On his nights off he and his wife frequently ate out.
This says more about his love of socializing than it does about Frances Orr's cooking, her daughter said. Orr remembers her mother being a good cook who filled the dinner table with solid, "Angelo-Saxon" fare.
"She did the basic meat and potatoes - beef stew, eye roast, Swiss steak. I don't remember a lot of vegetables," Orr said. She also recalls her mother's "Irish spaghetti," a name Orr came up with because her mother didn't like using garlic in recipes.
The Orrs were Catholics, so Friday dinners were meatless meals. Sometimes this meant vegetarian soup, but often it meant Orr's mother and aunt would travel to Barbera's fish market on Arctic Avenue to pick up fresh flounder for a meal of fried fish, with the women using the family recipe.
"This is the recipe that Arthur Treacher wishes he had," Judy Orr said, recalling the famous founder of the fish and chips restaurant chain. "She would serve it with coleslaw and peas, sometimes with French fries."
Frances Orr tried to get her daughter interested in cooking, but Judy Orr admits, "I was never as interested in the domestic sciences as much as I should have been."
"When she (her mother) died in 1975, I realized that I should have gotten her recipes when I could have," Orr said.
As an adult, Orr worked for more than three decades as a clerk at Atlantic-Electric before leaving in 1995. She now works as a documentation specialist at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township.
And while Orr is still not all that into cooking, she has mastered her mom's fish recipe. That mastery, however, did not come without a few mishaps.
"The recipe uses baking soda to make the batter rise," Orr said. "The first time I made it, I put baking powder in. It stayed a sickly white color, so I called my aunt to see what was wrong. She said 'Did you use baking powder or baking soda?'"
Nowadays, the recipe is something Orr turns to as a treat for herself and her guests on special occasions.
"I make it for company. I never make it for myself because it is too much trouble, but when I make it, it brings back all these wonderful memories for me," she said.
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Deep-Fried Batter-Dipped Fish
4 flounder fillets, cut in half lengthwise for 8 pieces of fish
1 cup flour
Large can of Crisco
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda (not powder)
Dash of paprika to add color and flavor
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix dry ingredients together in low dish, (soup plate) add tap water at a trickle into dish. Mix with a fork until thick but runny. Wash fish, shake off water, split flounder filet in half, or into 4 pieces. When oil is ready, dip fish in batter. Use Crisco in a deep, heavy pot, deep-fryer or fry daddy. Heat until smoking. Using a wooden utensil, add only 1 or 2 pieces of fish at a time. Cook until brown, turn over. When done, drain on paper towel. Serve as fish is cooked for best results. Goes well with cole slaw, french fries and a green vegetable.