Wash, wipe, and split the fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and lay it upon a buttered gridiron, inside downward. When the lower side is browned, turn the fish. One of medium size will be done in about twenty minutes. Serve upon a hot dish, and lay a good piece of butter upon the fish.
Common Sense in the Household by Marion Harland, New York, 1871
Comment: Shad of course played a prominent role in the Civil War when Gen. George Pickett left his post on the defensive lines at Petersburg to attend a shad bake at a nearby plantation. Unfortunately this event coincided with the final Union attack which succeeded in breaking the siege, leading just days later to the surrender at Appomattox, doing poor Gen. Pickett’s already battered military reputation no good at all.
The reputation of the shad is equally dubious today as it is extremely difficult to clean them completely of bones. It is suggested that the roasting technique, either on a grill ["gridiron"] as here or the procedure known as “planking” [nail tail of fish to board, prop board up by a pit containing an open fire], may help soften the bones to the point where they do not trouble the eater. The fish is one which, like the salmon, spends most of its life in the open ocean but must return to a freshwater stream to breed. They are making something of a comeback as old dams which no longer serve any purpose are being removed to let rivers run free again.