Sunday, December 21, 2008

"How to Greet the Spring"

M.F.K. Fisher begins her chapter on cooking with canned fish with a Japanese haiku:
Young leaves everywhere;
The mountain cuckoo singing;
My first Bonito!
Before World War II, many of the cannery workers and fishermen on the west coast were Japanese. With the outbreak of the war, the Japanese were herded into interment camps, both in the United States and in Canada. But for Cannery Row in Monterey, California, the war brought a final boom, as the the demand for canned fish rose. By the end of the war, the bay had been overfished, and the canneries fell into decline—even as they were being memorialized in John Steinbeck's 1945 novel Cannery Row.

Fisher laments the early wartime situation. "Now," she says, "...with all the waters of the earth troubled and suspect, fish as a food has become a rarity. Even the gulls are starving, and the fishermen are fighting or in prison camps..." (Six decades later, of course, the oceans are even more exhausted: overfished, overheated, and choked with plastic.) She recommends going out with a fishing pole, if possible, and catching your own fish; or, if that's not possible, resorting to canned fish.

Her first recipe in the chapter is for Salmon Pancake. Fisher says the recipe is Spanish, but it's essentially a recipe for salmon croquettes, a traditional Southern specialty that was evidently William Faulkner's favorite food. Here's M.F.K. Fisher's recipe, slightly modified:

1 can of salmon, well-drained
1 egg
plain white bread crumbs
chopped parsley to taste
chopped onion to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Beat the ingredients together, adding enough bread crumbs to help bind the pancake. Heat a mixture of oil and butter, about a tablespoon of each, in a skillet. With the salmon mixture, form a pancake about half an inch thick and cook in oil/butter until well browned on both sides. The salmon mixture could also be divided to create smaller croquettes.

I cut my pancake in half and shared it with Clara, serving it with parsleyed new potatoes, a dill pickle spear, a lemon wedge, a little cranberry sauce on the side, and a little dill mayonnaise on top. A delicious Sunday lunch with a little sherry.

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