Today’s post is by talented editor and fellow author, Pegg Thomas. Welcome back to Historical Nibbles, Pegg!
My story in The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides collection, Anna’s Tower, is set on Thunder Bay Island near Alpena, Michigan. There was a thriving fishing village there in the 1800s, so I went looking for a fish recipe that might have been enjoyed by Anna and the rest of the characters living at Thunder Bay Lighthouse in 1883.
From Cement City Cookbook, Alpena, Michigan, 1910
STUFFED BAKED FISH
After cleaning fish, wipe out inside and rub in a little salt. Make a dressing of raw potatoes, chopped fine, and season with salt, pepper, onion and poultry savory. Stuff the fish with this dressing, sew it up and dredge with flour. Pepper and salt the whole and put pieces of pork or butter over the top, and 1 cup of water. Bake slowly 1 1/2 hours. Garnish the whole with chip potatoes or lemon.
My first challenge was finding a whole fish. It seems that not one single grocery or market in the county sells whole fish. That left one option … catching our own.
A call to our friend, Steve Benedict, resulted in a Friday evening spent on a pontoon at Lake Winyah. My husband caught a 16” small mouth bass, and Steve caught a 20” walleye. I caught a perch that was, ahem, a little under optimum size. Two fish were more than enough.
I’ve never been very good at following recipes. I view them as loose guidelines. To be historically accurate, we should have left the heads on the fish. But today’s diner has a bit of an aversion to an entrée that stares back from the platter. So the heads were removed. I grated the potatoes instead of chopping fine. It was faster. I have no idea what poultry savory is, so I used salt, pepper, and a little rubbed sage. The recipe doesn’t say whether or not to cover the roasting pan, so I did. A slow oven is about 325 degrees, and that worked out perfectly at an hour and a half.
Then, just to be bold and daring, I invited Steve and his wife plus another couple from church to come to dinner and be guinea pigs. Because if I’m going to have an epic fail, I want witnesses. Thankfully―it wasn’t! It was very tasty. If I ever do it again, I’ll omit dredging the fish in flour. And, to be honest, I’d probably fillet the fish and sew the two fillets together. I’m spoiled. I like the bones removed before the fish is cooked. Still, it was fun to play with this recipe from yesteryear.
Anna’s Tower is Pegg’s novella, part of The Great Lakes Lighthouse Brides collection.
Anna’s dream of running the lighthouse was difficult enough to achieve, but then a Russian stowaway was left on the island, and that complicated everything.
Pegg Thomas lives on a hobby farm in Northern Michigan with Michael, her husband of *mumble* years. A life-long history geek, she writes “History with a Touch of Humor.” When not working or writing, Pegg can be found in her barn, her garden, her kitchen, or sitting at her spinning wheel creating yarn to turn into her signature wool shawls. Connect with Pegg on her blog at https://peggthomas.com/.