Fish don’t fry in the kitchen, beans don’t burn on the grill – Meaning?

The phrase “Fish don’t fry in the kitchen, beans don’t burn on the grill” most people know as lyrics from the song “Movin’ On Up”. Historically, it originated in the rural South, where poor people ate a lot of fish. Everyone could go fishing, even if they had no job or money. 

Seine nets are tightly woven to capture fish swimming upstream to spawn when the shad or herring were running. Poor people would get together to pull them after the fish were running. Potatoes, fish, and seasoning, made fish which were common fundraisers.

In the creeks and rivers “landings”, people would put out a rowboat to set a seine net. A mule or tractor would pull both ends of the net onto the shore, and workers lined trestle tables to clean and salt the fish, and then sold them to merchants. George Washington’s papers contain accounts of this process since Mount Vernon is located on the Potomac River.

Because the wives didn’t like frying fish in the house because it stunk up the house, there’s a camp stove and a large, oval cast iron frying pan to fry fish outside. People still use the camp stove for when the power goes out. 

Moreover, you have to cook the beans in a pot, not on the grill.

In addition to being the theme song from The Jeffersons, “Movin’ On Up” was also recorded by Ja’net Dubois (Good Times) and Jeff Barry, and yet all these songs make it a bit of a puzzle. Why? Because no one knows why, as the song goes, “fish don’t fry in the kitchen.”

Many people believe the answer could refer to the new lifestyle the Jeffersons have acquired after George became successful in his dry-cleaning business. Rather than simple down-home cooking (fried fish, beans on the grill, etc. ), they can now afford a housekeeper and serve steak and lobster dinners if they would like. 

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