I live in New England, where spring is late to arrive. I haven’t seen anything green yet, nor any swelling buds, even on my apple trees. Pity those poor early settlers, who had basically run out of everything by this time of year. Imagine salt cod, sprouting potatoes and mushy apples—and little else.
I’m lucky to have discovered the series of diaries written by the woman of the Massachusetts house I write about in the Orchard Mysteries. Her name was Olive Barton Warner, and we’re distantly related. She kept a day to day journal about the household activities for herself and her daughters (her husband Eugene gets a mention now and then, but he’s usually outside dealing with the farm). She’s surprisingly literate, with a nice hand, although her punctuation is a little unpredictable. Here’s one typical entry:
“I fried a batch of raised doughnuts made a loaf of gingerbread and 6 pies (my first rhubarb made two). Eugene went up and got Ruth after dinner–we cut L's dress earlier. The girls picked our first greens this P.M.”
The date was April 29th, 1880. So you can see we’re not quite close to harvesting any fresh vegetables around here (I don’t do rhubarb!).
But there was still fish. Here’s a recipe adapted from one in the New York Times recently, for a New England staple, fish cakes.
New England Fish Cakes
1 bay leaf
1 lemon slice
1 pound flaky white-fish fillets
2 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced or pressed
1 heaping Tblsp mayonnaise
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
Several grinds black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 heaping cup panko
1/2 bunch of parsley
Oil for cooking (I keep finding recipes that call for “neutral” oil like canola oil. I assume they mean anything that is not olive oil)
|This is one pound of fish|
In another bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, eggs, salt, pepper (and red pepper flakes, if you’re using them). Add to the bowl with the onions and garlic. Add the panko crumbs and stir. Add the parsley and stir again.
Flake the cooled fish into the mixture carefully (you don’t want to mush up the flakes!). Make the mixture into patties (this should make 4-6). Place them on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (which is the only way they won’t fall apart when you try to cook them).
Set a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add enough oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is shimmering, remove the fish cakes from the refrigerator (you don’t need to let them warm up) and carefully slide them into the cooking out, then sauté them until they are golden brown on each side (4-5 minutes per side). (Praying during the flipping operation is advised.)
Serve with a green vegetable (no doubt imported from Mexico or South America).
Believe it or not, the fish stays moist during its cooking.
There's a boat on the cover of A Turn for the Bad. Guess what: it's not used for fishing!
|My favorite fish shop in Union Hall, on Glandore|
Harbour in West Cork
You can find A Turn for the Bad on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Or in Skibbereen!