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 Posted: Sun Feb 16th, 2014 12:48 am
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Hellcat
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Well tried another recipe out of Civil War Recipes edited by Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding. This time the fish fritters recipe. From pages 124-125

Fish Fritters
1865

Take the remains of any fish which has been served the preceding day, remove all the bones, and pound it in a mortar, add bread crums and mashed potatoes in equal quantities. Mix together half a teacupful of cream, with two well-beaten eggs, some Cayenne pepper and anchovy sauce. Beat all up to a proper consistency, cut it into small cakes, and fry them in boiling lard.


Ok, so first of all I made some substitutions, other items were left out, and I didn't exactly follow the recipe that well. The first element here is the fish, I like canned sardines and happened to have a can on hand. Actually, the idea for the recipe started with last night's with boiled potatoes as an accompaniment to the main dish. Still had some left over and I realized had some fish (canned sardines, some smoked trout fillet, some frozen pollock fillets, some canned mackerel). I'd been seeing the fish fritters recipe for a while and never actually wanted to bother boiling potatoes to make some mashed potatoes for tis recipe. But with left over potatoes from last nights dinner I decided I was going to try this, and because it says any fish I decided I'd try making it with canned sardines.

So the first step was to open the can of sardines, drain them, and rinse them. I then made sure to remove the vertebrae from the sardines (to be honest I would have done that anyway as even though at that size you can supposedly eat the bones no problem it's never been my cup of tea). Instead of pounding it in a mortar I just though it in a bowl and mashed it extremely fine with a fork. I then added a couple of boiled potatoes and mashed them into the fish. Not having any breadcrumbs on hand I took some unseasoned stuffing bread cubes and through them into the mortar to pound them into much finer crumbs. This was added to the mix.

Now I think I really started deviating from the recipe at this point. As I read it now I think I was supposed to mix the cream, Cayenne, anchovy sauce, and beaten egg together and then mix it into the fish mix. Not having cream on hand, I used a little milk. Yes, I know, not exactly the same as cream. As I said, I made some substitutes. The milk went right into the mix followed by on unbeaten jumbo egg. I actually was looking at the consistency when I added the egg as I didn't want it to be too dry or too liquidly. And I figured if the consistency didn't look just right I'd add a second egg. I mixed the milk and egg in well then added some Cayenne. As I don't have anchovy sauce on hand (am at this point neither know how it would have been made nor am sure I want anchovy sauce) I did not add it.

In my fridge there is a jar of bacon grease. When bacon is made up around here we like to save any excess grease and use it either in recipes themselves or to fry in. So I got out enough for frying the fritters in a little boiling grease. I then took a little of the mixture in a ball and flattened it out, placing it in the pan. I proceeded to make several patties in this manner and place them in the fry pan as there was room an fried them up in the grease, flipping them to get a nice brown on each side.

Now time for the tasting. Would I do this again? Absolutely, but then keep in mind that I like sardines. As I said already. The flavor was a bit of sardine, naturally. I'd imagine the flavor would changed based on the type of fish used and it's preparation prior to making this dish. I did have some problems with it though. First, I didn't get the Cayenne mixed in as well as I thought and one of the fritters had a serious pocket of Cayenne to it. That lit up my mouth, ended up having to drink a bit of milk for that. Another was a slightly salty flavor which I think came from the bacon. Actually, the slightly salty flavor wasn't a problem in and of itself, the problem was tat I didn't always get that flavor in each bite and I kinda wish I did. It did leave me wondering if an anchovy sauce would have salt to it. I try this again, I might want to add just a little salt because those bites with it were more pleasant than those without. I've made both salmon croquets and tuna croquets my way and the use of mashed potato makes this even more distinct from either of those.

Now there is a note in the book on anchovies that might have me looking at the possibility of doing anchovy sauce when (not if but when) I try this recipe again. On page 139 is a recipe for chicken puffs that calls for anchovy. The note for this recipe says that the anchovy in question may have been uncured herring and not anchovy anchovy. However the note also states that Thomas Jefferson is said to have imported anchovies from Italy so both styles were known in the country by 1865. There is a cooking site I visit that talks about the anchovies used in the Nordic nations actually being a sardine-like sprat rather than genuine anchovy. So I might be more likely to consider this anchovy or even uncured herring for an anchovy sauce. The problem is, how do I make anchovy sauce. I mean I can find a recipe for Harvey Sauce from 1832 that calls for anchovy and an anchovy catchup from 1839. Would these be the anchovy sauce this recipe calls for? Don't know, but I do intend to make this again.



 Posted: Sun Feb 16th, 2014 05:57 am
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Xanthippe
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Heya hellcat....

Glad to see people are still reading--and trying--the recipes. To take some of your questions in no particular order:

Think about food marketing in the 19th century. We are talking townsfolk here, not farmers who grew, foraged or shot their own. In town no supermarkets yet, each shop sold their specialty item. The fishmonger goes to the docks before dawn and sees what's available and takes the whole fish back to the store to sell as is or possibly cut in half or quarters. It ain't gonna be sardines and they are most certainly not going to be packed in little cans. :)

To do this recipe get a chunk of fish. Nowadays this is probably fillet flash-frozen and in a bag but that will do if you are not in a location that can get fresh off the boat. Other fish recipes in the Spaulding's Godeys book include cod, herring, perch, shad, salmon...even eels. (I dare you... ;)

Anyway the idea of this fritters recipe is to use up leftovers. "Bread crums" come from a day when somebody, either housewife or servant, made with her own hands every loaf of bread eaten. NOTHING was let go to waste or thrown away as heels are today: the crumbs left on the tablecloth were brushed off and put into the crumb jar. Leftover bread, if any, dried quickly so was crushed and added as well. You can make this the same way, or spring for a can of premade bread crumbs, they're cheap. Your use of croutons was ingenious as improvisation.

Cream makes a difference. I would get a carton of half and half at least, what's left over you can use in coffee. And beat the eggs before adding to the mixture.

You should see some of the directions for making things like this: "pound in a mortar" is roughly the equivalent of spinning the product through a food processor. They want mush here, totally pulverized to bits. Mushing with a fork is not quite equivalent. "Push through a double-hair sieve with the back of a wooden spoon" is a direction from another recipe we will get to in a moment. They want this fine, very very fine.

Since we are, happily, not in the 19th century at present I would get a blender or food processor for your next attempt. Get some nice fish and have it for dinner one night. Make extra so you have a piece left over, cooked but preferably kept aside from any breading or spicing. Likewise save some mashed potatoes either from this meal or an earlier one (isn't refrigeration a wonderful thing?)

Blenderize fish, dump into bowl. Toss the potatoes, cream, eggs and cayenne in and blenderize them together. Dump them into bowl with fish and stir, stir, stir. Fine-tune the consistency at this point remembering that potatoes and breadcrumbs are supposed to be roughly the same quantity.

Now: the anchovy sauce. Chances are that this, unlike the above items, WOULD in our 19th century town be available as a already-prepared bottled condiment, probably at the apothecary or spice seller's shop. But if you were making it at home, we must turn to another book: The Cook's Oracle and Housekeeper's Manual by "William Kitchener MD", who is credited as having adapted the recipes of an English cookbook "to the American public." Copyright law was not in those times what it is today. US Copyright was 1832 so this was in its prime of life in the Civil War years.

ANCHOVY SAUCE

Pound three anchovies in a mortar with a little bit of butter; rub it through a double hair-sieve with the back of a wooden spoon, and stir it into almost half a pint of melted butter, or stir in a table-spoonful of essence of anchovy. To the above many cooks add lemon-juice and Cayenne.

See I told you we'd get back to hair-sieves, a topic I invite you to google. The point here is that this meant, again, to mince the items extremely fine. Chuck 'em in the blender again if you want to achieve this without ridiculous expenditure of energy. Considering that half a pint is 1/2 lb or 2 sticks of butter, and that we are unlikely to want more that a couple of tablespoons worth for the fritters and you are entirely excused for omitting this or at least drastically reducing the recipe.

In regard to the issue of the salt content there are some other 19th century differences to keep in mind. Butter sold in town was almost certainly salted, not for flavoring purposes but as a preservative. Butter is a milk-preservation storage device. It lasts longer than fresh milk does (again, no refrigeration to speak of at this time) but not indefinitely so it was packed in salt for future use. If you bought butter at the store you got this wad of yellow, salt-encrusted fat which you would of necessity rinse off at home just to make it edible. The level of salt used in modern butter does not remotely compare.

I suspect the bacon grease contributed much of the salty flavor. Lard was of course common but even more so was the fat rendered from any meat cooked in the home. This would be saved for future use because fat was an absolute good in the days before central heating. People needed calories in their bodies for the heat value and work represented. So your use of bacon grease is perfectly in keeping with the period. But if you want less salt save the fat from your next roast chicken, beef or pork and it will serve.

Hope this has helped expand some of the background of this recipe. Do let us know if you try it again and how it went. Best regards...

xan



 Posted: Tue Apr 22nd, 2014 01:52 am
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Hellcat
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Ok, so I just tried this recipe again tonight, largely following what I did last time with a few changes. First off I used canned mackerel instead of sardines. The recipe does say the remains of any fish from the day before. Although canned fish are not fish I'd used yesterday, their still precooked fish just waiting to be used. Second, last time I had some boiled potatoes I used and had to mash up, this time I had mashed potatoes from yesterday's Easter dinner. So as they had already been mashed before I used them (yes, real mashed rather than instant) that eliminated a step in the process used last time. Third, I didn't have bread crumbs to use so I used corn flake crumbs. Their unseasoned but if used right work almost as well as bread crumbs. We actually made some grilled chicken cordon bleu using the corn flake crumbs and it came out beautifully, but I also tried making some baked mac and cheese with them that didn't do so well (and I knew one of the problems was I tried reminding myself to season the crumbs and forgot to do so). Fourth, I added some cooking oil to the bacon grease to cook the fritters in. There was actually more oil than bacon grease.

The results really weren't that different than the first attempt at this recipe. As it didn't have as much bacon grease it didn't have the saltiness that I wished had been in each bite last time. I actually wish I had added some salt to the mixture. Also, as it was mackerel instead of sardines there was no sardine flavor to these fritters. To me the flavor was a bit more milder in terms of the fish flavor. But again I didn't get the Cayenne pepper mixed in as well and I think I got more of it in this time than I believed. It wasn't a pocket in one fritter like it was last time, this was more like you'd eat one fritter and get no hint of t and then try another and at least half of it would be heavy of it.

A I said last time, this is a dish I'd do again. And again and again. But ten I do enjoy fish and this is a very good way to use canned fish. I'll have to try saving some fish next time I cook some and try it with that. Of course I'll have to either bake or grill the fish, maybe pan fry it, instead of my usual fish fry since I can't picture this with the crust I do for fried fish. But at the same time baked or grilled fish usually means salmon to me and I'm not sure I see this as a salmon dish even though I do like to make salmon croquets. I guess this is largely close to what I do for salmon croquets with potato and Cayenne added.



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