Friday, January 30, 2009


Every pantry of my childhood held several tall red cans of salmon, with a silvery, leaping fish portrayed in a little oval on the label. Salmon in the tall can was cheaper than the squat cans of Starkist tuna, and you could stretch one can to feed a family of four---especially if one of the members was ME; I hated the stuff.

I still can't abide eating it, but have turned out countless little paving-stones over the years, starting with about ten crushed Premium crackers, and the clunky cylinder of salmon laid out on a white plate, so as to dissect it from all those pesky little bones (especially the crunchy round ones---they had a fossily look to them, like something in a line-drawing in my sciencebook).

And even after I caught on to the "don't cook fish too long" trick, I marveled at the soft, mushy pinkfleshed fish, and wondered HOW LONG it took to cook those bones to that crumbly, edible stage. My Grandpa would walk up beside Mammaw as she "picked over" the fish for cooking, and pick up every little round cylinder, crunching it between his back teeth with evident enjoyment.

The silver skin had a strong fishy/tincan tang to it, and it was stripped away, leaving just the soft pinkness of the fish itself, which was crumbled into a bowl with a little minced onion, the cracker crumbs, and an egg, as well as the secret--a teaspoon or so of Blue Plate mayonnaise, which lifted the everyday dish from the level of ordinary cooks' efforts to a special flavor known only at our table.

And was there a hierachy in the croquette-cooking set, with some cooks sneering at other cooks' amount of flour paste used to "stretch" the salmon? You gotta know that in the Southern kitchen, you might cut corners and stretch stuff and add an extra can of water to the Minute Maid at HOME, but not for company, and certainly not for taking to someone else's house or to any potluck gathering.

A cook's reputation was ALL, and a cook or two would coyly mention that hers was a "six-cracker" recipe, when the standard per tall can was ten, and I'm sure, though I never heard it, were those of "sleeve a' crackers" reputation, right down there with the trashy in their ways and the all-around stingy.

Tablespoons of the mixture were dropped gently into melted Crisco or oil in the big black skillet; after a good crusting on the bottom, they were flipped, then mashed just a tiny bit flatter with the egg turner to make them solid and well done all through. Onto a plate with paper towels when they were browned on the other side. Ours didn't seem to have any soft center---they looked more like crispy little pancakes with chunky bits of fish and little white or golden shards of fragrant onion.

Tartar sauce was the favored accompaniment, made up cool and tart while the patties were frying---a spoon or so of finely chopped home-canned dill pickle and an equal amount of sweet onion, cut about the size of rice---all stirred into perhaps a half-cup of cold mayo with a dribble of the salty, dilly juice from the pickle jar. I liked the sauce very much, and still follow that exact recipe today, for accompanying all fried seafoods or fish of any sort.

I don't make the patties too often any more---short cans of the candypink "fancy" salmon stand in my own pantry, for Caro's favorite salad, made up like tuna, but with a bit of the tartar sauce stirred into the right-out-of-the-can fish, for a nice cool dinner to take to work, or for Summer lunches. Chris likes little bites of it on crackers as a nibble while supper is cooking.

Chris' children remember their maternal Grandma’s making the salmon patties almost every time they visited her house---her other mainstay was fried chicken tenders, and both dishes are still favorites of them all. She was a lovely woman, slender and spare of aspect and word, but very kind to me, in my role of outsider joining her family. Her soft voice echoed her kindness and generosity of Spirit, and I remember her fondly.

Almost all the women I knew who made those salmon patties spoke in the same soft, gentle tones, and I think perhaps the secret of the flavor and the charm lay in the pronunciation common to all:

"Would Y'all want some sal-mon paddehs for supper?"


Tonja said...

Oh, I didn't know that anyone else knew about salmon patties. We would have them about once a week, and my sister and I loved them! Mom would make a gravy out of the pan juices when she finished, and man, was it good. BUT, she never took the bones out...she just cooked them with everything else.

Another thing we had quite often was salmon and rice. Which is simply a heated can of salmon poured over cooked rice. Decicious with home made biscuits. For this sister and I played a game. Whoever got the most bones was the winner. We never won was enough to just be the winner!

Keetha said...

Salmon croquettes. That is a blast from the past. Hadn't thought about those in ages!