Salmon Puff

Keeping with this week’s rather unintentional theme of preparing dishes from old cookbooks, last night I tried a dish from 100 Tempting Fish Recipes. This book (well, at 56 pages, it’s more of a pamphlet) was issued by the Department of Fisheries (Ottawa, Canada) in 1939, although I have a 1949 reprint. It’s well out of print now and I haven’t found any copies for sale on the Web, but a digital copy is available online at Early Canadiana Online if you have a membership (which I do not). The site does have a free 18-page preview.

You can get a general idea of the age of this book just by the typography. Another dead giveaway of its age are the sometimes-vague cooking directions. For example, the recipe that I used was the Salmon Puff on page 23, and the baking directions were “Place in a buttered casserole, dot with butter and bake in a moderate oven until brown.” The term “moderate oven” is used a lot in this book and could, I think, denote a number of temperature settings. The timing is also vague; these days, you’d get an instruction along the lines of “Bake in an oven preheated to 350° until brown, about 20 to 30 minutes.” Not that older recipes can’t be precise, but newer ones generally give much more detail. I think that part of this is because the authors expected the reader to have a background of knowledge that would make what the author meant obvious. It’s probably also due to the fact that publication costs went down over time, so it was possible to be wordier (and include photographs of the final product) when every word didn’t carry as much financial weight at printing time. Heck, even between in my 1949 copy 100 Tempting Fish Recipes and the 1960 The I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Bracken (which is still in print), there’s a notable shift toward more precise instructions. The author actually bemoans this in the introduction:

…[T]hey’re always telling you what any chucklehead would know. “Place dough in pan to rise and cover with a clean cloth,” they say. What did they think you’d cover it with?

This terrible explicitness also leads them to say, “Pour mixture into 2 1/2 qt. saucepan.” Well, when you hate to cook, you’ve no idea what size your saucepans are, except big, middle-sized, and little. Indeed, the less attention called to your cooking equipment the better. You buy the minimum, grudgingly, and you use it till it falls apart.

Back to yesterday’s recipe. It’s what I would consider to be a “pantry casserole”, i.e. a dinner that, with a reasonably-stocked Canadian pantry and fridge, one is likely to have all of the ingredients already at home. The salmon, which would normally be the ingredient most easily spoiled, is canned. You’d think that with a pound of salmon in there, the dish would at least have a bit of a pink tinge, but potatoes make up the bulk and leach it of all colour. I think that this is a good metaphor for the dish overall, actually. It’s just very… Beige. Not great, not bad; edible, but uninspired. Even a sprinkling of paprika as garnish would liven it up a little. Peg Bracken has great things to say about garnish on page 15 of The I Hate to Cook Book:

The reason for these little garnishes is that even though you hate to cook, you don’t always want this fact to show, as it so often does with a plateful of nude food. So you put light things on dark things (like Parmesan on spinach) and dark things on light things (like parsley on sole) and sprinkle paprika on practically everything within reach. Sometimes you end up with a dinner in which everything seems to be sprinkled with something, which gives a certain earnest look to the whole performance, but it still shows you’re trying.

(Seriously, though, I highly recommend this book, even if you hate to cook. Especially if you hate to cook. It’s a fun read.)

The salmon puff would have benefited greatly from a side of steamed vegetables or a salad, both to enhance the presentation and the nutritional values. Surprisingly, I think I may use this recipe again in the future specifically because it is an easy pantry casserole. Heaven knows some winter days I just don’t want to brave the roads for more exciting ingredients. Also, it would be a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. I mean, everyone in my family ate their dinner, nobody complained, and some even had seconds. Nobody had anything great to say about the dish, but when it comes to feeding kids, a lack of complaints is pretty high praise.

But What Is It?

The cottage that my parents are renting is sixty or more years old (or at least the original section is), and has been both a family cottage and a year-round home in that time. Even though nobody lives there any more, the remnants of occupation remain — meaning that there are all kinds of interesting things tucked away in the back of cupboards, drawers, and shelves. In the kitchen/dining area alone we spotted a full set of vintage silverware (silver plate) and crystal glassware, alongside classic Pyrex mixing bowls, a potato ricer, and ornamental tea tins from the 1970’s. We’ve also found less likely things, like an old Mechano set, a wooden chess set, a bound book a couple of hundred pages long about one family’s genealogy, and what we think are authentic woven Navajo bowls. And then there’s this:

I haven’t the slightest clue what to make of it. The board under this device is about a foot long, to give an idea of scale, and the handle fits comfortably in my hand. But is it even something that’s supposed to go in the kitchen? Or does it really belong in the workshop in the basement, but was never put away? Or is it some kind of small farm implement (a not unreasonable supposition as there are bits of vintage/antique farming equipment decorating some of the exterior walls)?

As you can see, the tool is hinged, and still opens and closes smoothly. Based on the beveled edges of the triangular part, I would deduce it’s for cutting things — but what? Cigars? Cigarettes? Vegetables? Cheese? I haven’t the foggiest. Or is it a weird door knocker? Or perhaps just a novelty doodad made out of salvaged parts, used as a conversation piece to elicit confusion from guests?

My searches of the Internet have yielded nothing similar, and I know so little on this subject that I have an enormously broad range of search terms with which to start. Does anyone out there have a clue as to what this is supposed to be?

(Honestly, this is worse than the time I was trying to find a Kartoffelfeuer like my in-laws have. That was the only name they’d every used to refer to a very specialized cooking pot. Literally translated from German, the name means “potato fire”, but it’s actually a kind of terracotta potato baking pot. It’s also known as a “diable à patates” (Devil with potatoes? Potato devil?) in French or a “patatiera” in Italian — or so I discovered in my research. At any rate, I didn’t know that the style I was looking for is specifically a “Thomas Kartoffelfeuer“. I spent a really long time looking through information about potato fires, cooking your potato in a fire, etc. If you don’t know the right terminology, especially in a language that is not your first, it can be really difficult to find the right information.)

New Cookware

When it comes to garage sale and thrift store shopping, my mother is my role model. Actually, that’s true when it comes to shopping in general. My mom can go into a clothing store and find three pairs of trousers and a shirt, all that fit well, all for 75% off or greater, in less than fifteen minutes. I will go into the same store and come back with maybe one of those pieces. It’s as if she has some kind of supernatural ability to sniff out bargains.

Case in point: my mom bought me some new cookware at garage sales this past month, both for about $2.00 apiece. The first was a pretty vintage 1970’s-ish Dutch oven. I love this style of enameled piece, and although my mom gave me her old one a while back, she was not ashamed to admit that this one was in better shape. As a bonus, it’s also bigger.

Mom also found me this adorable pumpkin pie plate, virtually brand new; it still had the cardboard insert to protect between the top and bottom parts from each other. I doubt it has ever been used. I think it will be perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, when pumpkin pie is often my main contribution to the meal. The temperature at night is telling me that fall isn’t far off, so it won’t be long until I get a chance to use this dish.