Salmon cakes from mom were baked, rather than fried.By Barbara Haber
One of the treasures I inherited from my mother is "The Settlement Cook Book," a recipe collection that originated in Milwaukee where my mother had lived most of her life. The book was a standard for Midwestern home cooks just as the "Boston Cooking-School Cook Book," better known as the Fannie Farmer cookbook, gave New Englanders basic instructions for what most people were eating a couple of generations ago. In my mother's time, people generally owned only a few cookbooks, a basic all-purpose one, and several community cookbooks purchased as fundraisers for their local schools, churches or synagogues.
My mother's "The Settlement Cookbook" was pretty tattered by the time I got it, held together by a rubber band because of a missing spine and some loose pages. But the book's infirmities have only made it dearer to me, for it reflects its years of use in the hands of a capable cook. What I treasure most are my mother's handwritten recipes tucked between the book's pages, for they remind me of the dishes she liked and the flavors she was drawn to.
With all of the turmoil in the world and the economic problems we face here at home, we seem to find comfort in a real or imagined past, when life seemed simpler and our goals more easily achieved. It is not surprising that we find solace in eating old-fashioned dishes far removed from sous vide machines and liquid nitrogen dispensers.
Other evidence for our current yearning for the past is the popularity of eating clubs where friends regularly get together to put on theme meals, often dipping into the past for their inspiration. The '50s is a particularly popular decade, for it is emblematic of a time when home cooking was filled with such popular and, yes, comforting dishes as meatloaf, oven-fried chicken, tuna casseroles and Jell-O molds. I once organized such an event, and people showed up with those dishes as well as with piles of brownies, butterscotch pudding and apple crisp, homey desserts that continue to be great favorites.
Another demonstration of our yearning for simpler times, it seems to me, is the popularity of farmers markets. In strolling through the market, I was brought back to a time, before impersonal supermarkets, when customers got to know the people who sold them their food. And that we now are able to meet the people who actually grow and cook some of our food is all the better.
Salmon patties like mom used to make
Absent from the aisles of farmers markets is any sign of a canned vegetable and certainly no canned salmon so loved by my mother. (Her recipes had names like "Salmon Neptune" or "Salmon Patty Delight.") I have, however, been noticing when looking through new cookbooks and recent food magazines that salmon patties are making a comeback, only now they are made from fresh fish and are called "salmon cakes" in the tradition of those expensive and upscale crab cakes that must be made with fresh crabmeat.
But I know an old-fashioned salmon patty when I see one. I am not ready to knock all of my mother's canned salmon recipes, so I am offering one that is different from most others in that the patties, or rather the cakes, are not fried, as in most recipes, but baked. Try it.
Baked Salmon Cakes
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil
1 14-ounce can of salmon
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup milk, heated
1 cup soft bread crumbs
2 carrots, sliced into ½-inch pieces
2 ribs of celery, sliced into ½-inch pieces
1 can condensed tomato soup
½ cup cream
1. Heat oven to 350 F.
2. Saute onion and pepper in butter and oil until soft.
3. In a large bowl, mash the salmon, removing skin and bones. Add the onions, peppers, and the beaten eggs.
4. Pour hot milk over bread crumbs and add to salmon mixture.
5. Line a pan with carrots and celery. Form salmon mixture into cakes and place on top of carrots and celery.
6. Mix together the soup and cream and pour over and around the salmon cakes. Bake 50 minutes.
Zester Daily contributor Barbara Haber is an author, food historian and the former curator of books at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library at Harvard University. She is a former director of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and was elected to the James Beard Foundation's "Who's Who's in Food and Beverages" and received the M.F.K. Fisher Award from Les Dames d'Escofier.
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