Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network


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Cooking: Utah's Fish

The years of 1855 proved to be very difficult for the Saints. Not only were they in dire need of food but the Indians suffered likewise and it was then that the fish in Utah Lake played such an important part in augmenting their meagre supplies. Peter Madsen, pioneer fisherman of Utah county, tells this story:

"I arrived in Salt Lake City on Oct. 4, 1854 and came to Provo the same year where I have since made by home. It was in the year 1855, as I remember, when the grasshoppers made their descent upon the small fields of the pioneers. The crops had been planted in the rich soil along Provo river and gave promise of a fair harvest, equal to the demands of the small population and the incoming emigrants who would be too late to plant crops during that summer. We felt that all would be well with us when lo, the grasshoppers came upon us, so thick that they very fairly darkened the sun. They destroyed most of the crops as they made their way to the shores of the lake, which they attempted to cross and were drowned by wagon loads and many of them were eaten by the fish. The great walls floated upon the shores of the lake.

"It was a little later that the people came to the lake. From Sevier to Salt Lake they came with wagons and barrels and salt, prepared to take fish home with them for food during the winter. Their crops were destroyed and they were weak from hunger. They brought with them two short pieces of seine, which I secured from them and joined to the end of a short seine I had knit during my first winter in Utah, therefore making a fairly good net. They all camped along the river near where it empties into the lake, and we made preparations to supply them with mullet and trout which were quite plentiful.

"Having been accustomed to fishing in Denmark when a boy I was prepared for this important duty of furnishing food for starving people, and I will always remember the scene along the river bank after the first days catch had been distributed. The campers were in little groups around the campfires where they were broiling fish on the hot coals and eating them with a relish that only those who have been through experiences of this kind can appreciate.

"The bishop of Provo sent men to help and all day and night the fishing went on. The Saints came and remained on the river until they had enough fish salted to last them during the winter, then they left for their homes to make room for others equally as needy. For weeks the work went on. Nobody ever asked who did the work or who received the fish. We were comparatively equal in those days and all we asked was enough to eat until we could raise crops to supply us with food."

To Fry or Broil Fish Properly. After the fish are well cleansed, lay them on a folded towel. When wiped dry, roll in wheat flour, rolled crackers, grated stale bread, or Indian meal, whichever may be preferred. Wheat flour will generally be liked. Have a thick frying pan or spider with plenty of sweet lard, salted tbs. of salt to each pound of lard fresh fish which have not been previously salted; let it become boiling hot then lay the fish in and let fry gently until one side is a delicate brown, then turn. When both are done take up carefully and serve quickly, or keep covered with a tin cover and set the dish where it will keep hot.

Baked Black Bass. Eight good onions chopped fine; half that quantity of bread crumbs; butter size of hens egg; plenty of pepper and salt; mix thoroughly with anchovy sauce until quite red. Stuff fish with this compound and pour the rest over it, previously sprinkling it with a little red pepper. Shad, pickerel, and trout are good the same way. Tomatoes can be used instead of anchovies, and are more economical. If using them take pork in place of butter and chop fine.

Boiled Bass. Put enough water in the pot for the fish to swim in easily. Add half a cup of vinegar, a tablespoonful of salt, and onion, a dozen black peppers, and a blade of mace. Sew up the fish in a piece of clean net, fitted to its shape. Heat slowly for the first half hour, then boil eight minutes at least, to the pound, quite fast. Unwrap, and pour over it a cup of drawn butter, based upon the liquor in which the fish was boiled, with the juice of half a lemon stirred into it. Garnish with sliced lemon.

Baked Salmon. Clean the fish, rinse it and wipe it dry; rub it well outside and in, with a mixture of pepper and salt, and fill it with a stuffing made with slices of bread, buttered freely and moistened with hot milk or water (add sage or thyme to the seasoning, if liked). Tie a thread around the fish so as to keep the stuffing in (take off the thread before serving) lay muffin-rings or a trivet in a dripping-pan; lay bits of butter over the fish; dredge the flour over, and put it on the rings; put a pint of hot water in the pan, to baste with; bake one hour, if a large fish, in a quick oven; baste frequently. When the fish is taken up, having cut a lemon in very thin slices, put them in the pan and let them fry a little; then dredge in a teaspoonful of wheat flour, add a small bit of butter; stir it about, and let it brown without burning, for a little while; then add half a tea-cup or more of boiling water, stir it smooth, put the slices of lemon into the gravy-boat and strain the gravy over. Serve with boiled potatoes. The lemon may be omitted if preferred, although generally it will be liked.

Boiled Salmon. 2 or 3 lbs salmon (in one piece), salt; 2 cups cream; 2 tbs. butter; 2 tsp. chopped parsley; 1/2 c. fish stock (water in which fish was cooked). Wash the fish thoroughly and place in a clean cheese cloth or piece of white linen. Fasten openings securely and put in a large kettle. Cover with cold water and add 1 tbs. salt. Cook slowly, allowing 15 minutes for each pound of fish. While the fish is cooking, combine the remaining ingredients in a double boiler; heat thoroughly, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and keep sauce warm until ready to use. Remove fish from kettle and place on heavy cloth to absorb the water, unwrap and place on a hot platter. Care should be taken not to break the fish. Pour the sauce over the fish, garnish with parsley and serve at once.

Broiled Salmon. Cut slices about an inch thick, and broil them over a gentle, bright fire of coals, for ten or twelve minutes When both sides are done, take them on to a hot dish; butter each slice well with sweet butter; strew over each a very little salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Fried Trout. They must, of course, be nicely cleaned and trimmed but do not cut off their heads. Dredge well with flour, and fry in a pan of boiling hot fat or oil; turn them from side to side till they are nicely browned. Drain off all fat before sending the dish to the table, garnish with a few sprigs of parsley and provide plain melted butter. If preferred, the trout can be larded with beaten eggs and dipped in bread crumbs. The frying will occupy from five to eight minutes, according to size. Very large trout can be cut in pieces.

Broiled Trout. Clean and split open, season with a little salt and cayenne; dip in whipped egg, dredge with flour and brandy, broil over a clear fire. Serve with sauce.

Source: Our Pioneer Heritage © Carter, Kate B., ed. 20 vols. Salt Lake City: International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-1977. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the publisher. Documents and images are exerpted by permission from the LDS Family History Suite CDROM from Ancestry.