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The Salmon Croquette

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#1 Mayhaw Man

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 03:32 PM

As with many of my little challenges, this one starts off with a story.

I grew up in North Louisiana. Our dining fare consisted of what most people who actually know about Southern food in actuality, and not legend, ate back then (just for reference sake, I'm 45). Lots of fresh vegetables, peas and beans, rice and gravy, tons of pork and chicken and sweet, homemade desserts. Though I didn't know it at the time (or care), we were pretty much eating local before local was "the thing" and eating traditional before it was anything more than supper for regular folks.

There were a few oddities in the mix, however, and they weren't unique to us. Tamales would probably be one of them (though I pretty much understand the deal with those and the other would be salmon croquettes.

We ate them all of the time, probably 3 or four times a month. The patties were usually accompanied by mashed potatoes, green peas, hot pickled beets and iced tea (not sweet at our house-ever). In fact, other than sauerkraut and bratwurst (Southern I am, but my father's family came over at the very beginning of the 20th century-so we ate alot of German food-still do), I think that this might have been my mother's go to meal when they were going out at night and she wanted to get us fed before one of our long suffering series of baby sitters (we went through alot of them) showed up for an entertaining evening with the Hamaker Boys.

The other night I had dinner at Watershed in Decatur, GA. One of their menu staples is the Salmon Croquette. It's a really good version of the dish-a nice, very firm cracker crust and moist (albeit fresh) salmon on the inside. It's a simple thing to prepare and really good to eat.

My questions are many, but can be boiled down to a few-Why do Southerners eat salmon and in particular, why do they eat it as salmon croquettes? Salmon is not native in the least (though, on another note-we do have Walleye, what is traditionally considered a fish from Northern Climes-in fact, the world champ was caught in Arkansas). Is it because it was canned fish and easy to deal with? I'm not sure that's it, as there is damned sure no shortage of fish, saltwater or freshwater. I just don't get it.

Salmon Croquettes have been around a while. This is not a new thing. John T Edge's , A Gracious Plenty has recipes for them. The book is a collection of older recipes so that's a pretty good indicator that they were not only staples, but not new ones at that. I have some Baptist Church cookbooks that are pre-war and they have recipes for the dish in there, as well.

Did you eat these things when you were growing up? Do you eat them now? Do you have a clue what I am talking about? Why is this dish, whose main ingredient is decidedly not Southern in the least, a common part of the Southern food lineup?
Do you have any secret recipes? What about the salmon itself-favorite brands, etc.?

What do you know about Salmon Croquettes? Tell me, please.
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#2 therese

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 03:44 PM

What do you know about Salmon Croquettes? Tell me, please.

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Yes, also a staple for us, on my grandmother's farm in southwest Virginia (so the edge of Appalachia. Canned salmon (laboriously picked over to remove skin and bones, and one guess as to whose job this was), egg, cracker crumbs, and probably onion and celery (though I'm not sure about this---my mother may have added them later on). Not much in the way of local fish apart from trout, so that may have been one of reasons it became popular, but in the end I think it was just a cheap, convenient source of protein. And one that didn't require rearing, slaughtering, and preserving (as does pork), or any sort of refrigeration (as does beef, except that we rarely ate beef), or any sort of last minute intense prep (as does chicken, at least the sort of chickens we ate).
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#3 shellfishfiend

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 05:30 PM

Yes, I grew up eating salmon croquettes. My mom's recipe included cracker crumbs and minced onions. I think she dusted hers with a little flour before pan frying. She always used canned salmon (we ate alot of canned tuna, too).

I am not sure why they were popular in the South. I think my mother served them because it was a dish that stretched the food budget dollar. Croquettes were usually served with mac and cheese (yes, the boxed version).

Thanks for bringing this up. I haven't had croquettes in ages and just might have to go and buy a can of salmon.
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#4 Dana

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 05:45 PM

We had them as well, in central Kansas where I grew up. We called the salmon patties, though. Same cracker crumbs and egg, maybe a little green onion. Mom mashed up the bones and skin along with the flesh - that's calcium in there!!!- and fried them in just a little vegetable oil. We didn't have a regular side item, though. Probably just something like tater tots. I didn't really care for them too much. They were always dry, so I slathered them with mayo. Occasionally my husband will ask for them, and I usually keep a can or two on hand for something quick and easy, and for hurricane emergencies.
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#5 Betts

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 07:09 PM

Are we talking salmon patties or the much fancier citified " croquettes".

I grew up on them in Southern Ontario and always assumed that they were fast, dirt cheap, kid tolerated and a pantry staple ( when people actually had pantries).

It was fast food when not much came in boxes, cans and packets.

#6 markk

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 07:35 PM

Did you eat these things when you were growing up? Do you eat them now? Do you have a clue what I am talking about?

Well, I'm not from Dixie (though I love your cups), but I wanted to add that I grew up with a Jewish grandmother who cooked (heavily) in NYC in the 50's, and though she made all the traditional Jewish foods from scratch, she did regularly make Salmon Croquettes, from canned salmon, of course. Why, I don't know.
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#7 Kim Shook

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 10:05 PM

Yep, grew up eating them and still like them a lot. I haven't made them in a while, though - time to try some. Mr. Kim's mom always served them with a sauce made from cream of celery soup :shock: ! We really do need a yakking smilie.

#8 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 08 January 2007 - 11:20 PM

from MSNBC
Start your day with down-home soul food
Louise’s restaurant in Atlanta serves up a hearty portion of salmon patties on biscuits for an authentic Southern-style breakfast....

Apparently, these salmon patties (also termed croquettes, if for dinner) are served as a part of a hearty breakfast, rather than at dinner ...

Like last week's recipe, this one is stolen from Georgia. What a catch! Louise's Salmon Breakfast Patties come to us from a family-owned and operated soul food restaurant. The history of soul food is an oral one, with recipes passed down from generation to generation.

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#9 nola2chi

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 09:44 AM

What a surprise! I'm just figuring out how to use some of the features here and this is my first 'new topic notification'.

Having been born in Mississippi, I was moved with my mother and her best friend, a black woman named Margarette, who I called Geet, then Geetsie, at the age of one to New Orleans. My mom was a single mother supporting 2 homes, one in Laurel where my grandmother and older sister lived and Geetsie and I in N.O. At first we lived with my aunt who had already relocated there. At the time I had no idea we were dirt poor. In my home my mother was the father figure, she worked hard to earn a living and take care of those she felt responsible for. Geetsie was my mother figure and I could not have loved or respected her more.

The move to New Orleans was in 1957. By then my mom was one of the first three women in the country to hold a management position at an automobile dealership. Small package, huge content. Yep, a tough cookie.

As a toddler I would ride the bus with Geetsie. The walk to the back of the bus was for me a very proud moment. After all, if that was the area reserved for Geet, it must be for royalty only. I'd stick my nose in the air and walk past all the less fortunate people to take my seat next to the woman I still consider to be one of the best people to have ever lived. Words simply cannot describe the warmth of heart or generosity of spirit this woman possessed and shared.

Sometimes after work mom would take Geetsie and I for a beverage. They could not go inside together, so we went to a place with a window for service and sat in the big old round Buick in a shell parking lot, talking, telling stories and laughing a lot. Geet would go to the window and get beers for mom and herself and either a grape or orange soda for me. It is difficult for me now to imagine how difficult and stressful life must have been for them. They never shared that part with me.

Chicago has been my home for the last 10 years. It's taken a long time to learn to find the ingredients that I took for granted in New Orleans. Head on shrimp and live blue crab are not on every corner.

There is a favorite thrift store that I frequently check. I've picked up quite a few pieces of Le Creuset, never paying more than $12.50. And lots of great deals on Pyrex, Correlle, Corning Ware, wine glasses, etc. Oh, and fantastic cook books! Last Thursday I was checking out the book section and found a couple of great cook books. At the checkout instant panic kicked in. I'd been pick pocketed. I'm not careless. This was a team of pros. So, the police report and so on. I'd saved so much on previous purchases there that the $60-70 cash simply didn't matter. And yes, the replacement of I.D. and all the other stuff is a pain in the ass for sure. But what really sacked me was the fact that the wallet itself, an emerald green eel skin, had been given to me by my mother. She died 5 months before Katrina. The house where she'd made drapes, upholstered furniture, refinished furniture, hung wallpaper.......her friends said they always felt like they were walking into the pages of a magazine when visiting her, was on the market when the hurricane hit. She'd had the same gardner for 43 years. The yard was botanic garden. Digging the earth is a spiritual activity. After the storm all I could offer to assist loved ones was home. The landscape took a beating but the house was untouched. Not a broken window, not a drop of water.

In that kitchen I'd watched Geetsie prepare many a meal. And I helped a lot too. We regularly had salmon croquettes. Mom always used a recipe, and she was an excellent cook. Geetsie never used a recipe, and was the one I learned the croquettes from, and I didn't even know it!

So after the very unexpected trauma of the pick pocketing I was shocked at how much emotional effect it had on me. After all, it was nothing compared to what many face daily. But, I was seeking a way to get over it. The next day I went back to the thrift store with a defiant attitude that they could take my wallet, but I would give them no more than that. The things I enjoy doing must continue. Still I felt so hurt. I suppose loosing one more bit of my mother struck deep. This was a time I really needed comfort food.

Friday night I took out a can of salmon and made Geetsie's croquettes. Panko updated the crushed cracker coating, but they were otherwise just the same as I remembered. I've not ever made them without Geet. It has been 40+ yrs. since I had them. For me, they aren't just comfort food, they were a cure. She always made them in a kind of football shape with three sides. The result was just as I recall from memory. Others that I served were quite impressed. My husband of 25 yrs. had never had them. He's cajun and works for a 'fine dining establishment'. He enjoyed them more than the $45 appetizers served at the restaurant.

It is unusual for me to share some of these details, not sure why. The timing of the subject seemed to call for it. The experiences of my past provide me with a wonderful perspective. Food is love. Just when I needed it most, Geetsie hugged me with a croquette.
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#10 NYC Mike

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 10:00 AM

What a beautiful story, thanks so much for sharing!

-Mike & Andrea

#11 Fat Guy

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 10:24 AM

They were always around when I was growing up in New York City. There is in fact a salmon croquette recipe in the New York Times Jewish Cookbook. I think the prevalence of this dish has got to do with, as you suggest, the widespread availability of canned salmon. I mean, what besides croquettes can you do with canned salmon that you can't do better for less money with canned tuna? You look at the salmon canners' websites and they have all these recipes that sound just awful -- "Asian-Alaska Salmon Noodle Soup" -- but salmon croquettes can be tasty.

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#12 slo_ted

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 10:40 AM

My childhood happened in Austin, Texas. That's a long way from salmon habitat, but in our home, too, saLmon croquettes were a staple. They were delicious. I think it helped that my mother could open a can and have the meat of the menu covered. My brother, who unlike me, was a picky eater loved the dish too. We fished alot and had bass, blue gills, and crappie frequently, but there was always the challenge of the bones. With the salmon we didn't have to be so careful.
Thanks for the reminder! It's been decades and I've got to make some croquettes tonight!

#13 Carrot Top

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 10:46 AM

Just when I needed it most, Geetsie hugged me with a croquette.

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And you have shared that hug with us now. Many thanks! :smile:

#14 scubadoo97

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 11:07 AM

I did a dinner with a southern soul food theme a few weeks back. I was doing back eye peas and collards for new years and wanted to throw a few more dishes in the mix. On researching soul foods I was amazed to see the salmon croquettes show up time and time again. I opted not to make them since several of my guests were not fish eaters but I have to imagine it's a very cheap source of protein. The cans of salmon with the bones and skin are dirt cheap. I like to use it for a quick and cheap fish spread. Just takes too much time to clean it up but does taste good.

#15 nola2chi

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 11:26 AM

Sorry for going totally off topic here but......
The New Year offers some challenges.
I've been making a vegan, strange application of a home staple for the cellebration. A very small cabbage roll, stuffed with black eyed peas and brown rice, etc.; for my northern friends to have on New Years Day. I just couldn't stand the idea that they may not have good luck and wealth in the new year due to my negligence. So some of them actually take it like a pill, to appease me. Well.....what can I say? It floats my boat, and probably does them no harm.

#16 maggiethecat

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 11:30 AM

I thought that salmon patties/croquettes were the property of Northern WASPS -- both my Ontarian grandmothers and my mother, for three. Fascinating how that tall tin of salmon got around.

I've made salmon patties recently when canned salmon got ridiculously cheap, and they were good. I sauced them with some parsleyed bechemel (AKA White Sauce) because, well, that's what Mummy did.

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#17 judiu

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 11:40 AM

I did a dinner with a southern soul food theme a few weeks back.  I was doing back eye peas and collards for new years and wanted to throw a few more dishes in the mix.  On researching soul foods I was amazed to see the salmon croquettes show up time and time again.  I opted not to make them since several of my guests were not fish eaters but I have to imagine it's a very cheap source of protein.  The cans of salmon with the bones and skin are dirt cheap.  I like to use it for a quick and cheap fish spread.  Just takes too much time to clean it up but does taste good.

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And the recipe for your salmon spread might be...? :biggrin:
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#18 MissAmy

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 12:15 PM

I grew up in Texas eating salmon croquettes on a regular basis. I have no idea why, I only remember that they were good, and as a child we were the only people on our street who ate them, so in my mind they were very sophisticated and exotic as well. :hmmm:

I should make those again sometime soon. It just seems such a shame to use canned salmon when wonderful fresh salmon is so readily avaliable these days.
-Sounds awfully rich!
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#19 slkinsey

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 12:19 PM

Interesting. Growing up in Boston with parents from the South, I can remember having cod fish cakes but not salmon croquettes. Maybe that was a New Englandification of salmon croquettes.

Thinking of cod got me to thinking about canned salmon, however. Brooks, you were wondering how dishes with a fish like salmon became so widespread in areas of the United States where it is not native. I wonder if canned salmon (and canned tuna as well) became a bit like the 20th century equivalent of salt cod. Salt cod, of course, is considered integral to many culinary traditions around the world that are removed from the cod's native waters by thousands of miles.
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#20 lovebenton0

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 12:57 PM

oh yes, grew up with salmon croquettes as a regular and welcome visitor at the dinner table. i first remember them in tx as a five year old girl, that would be in 1957-58, for timeline reference. we probably ate them before then. mother (ohio) and dad (illinois) were both northern kids, so i don't think this started as a southern thing when we moved to tx from rhode island. we continued to eat them wherever we lived, although for some reason once we were up in michigan crab cakes snuck in there more often.

i still make salmon croquettes, switch the sauce around as i feel like it, but always with a nice salad and some other veg on the side just like when i was a kid. had them last week with a homemade wasabi/mayo. i use fresh bread crumbs in mine, the usual egg, chopped onions, squeeze of lemon and sometimes dill, depending on sauce. cooked in just a bit of butter on a griddle. yes i do leave in the skin and bones for good omegas and calcium, but i don't coat mine with anything (i suppose because mother never did either), and they stay whole and nicely crispy just the same.

i think canned salmon was probably a great, cheap protein source that families could afford and just a bit different to boot from the usual dinner we ate. it's one thing i ever saw my mother put into a skillet with any kind of fat to cook other than eggs. she was the broiler queen, but i'm still glad she made an exception for salmon croquettes. :biggrin:
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#21 Toliver

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Posted 09 January 2007 - 03:09 PM

Are we talking salmon patties or the much fancier citified " croquettes".

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Is there a difference between the two or is this just a regional name difference?
My mom used to make salmon patties when we were youngin's and, looking back, I now recognize them as the budget stretcher they were. They were pan fried and she never made a sauce to go with them so I wonder if that may be the difference between croquettes and patties.
I despised them as a kid and haven't eaten them in over 35 years. But I enjoy salmon now so perhaps it's time to get the skillet out again.
Brooks, did Brooksie have a recipe written down?

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#22 racheld

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 10:45 AM

Every pantry of my childhood held several tall red cans of salmon, with a silvery, leaping fish portrayed in a little oval on the label. Salmon in the tall can was cheaper than the squat cans of Starkist tuna, and you could stretch one can to feed a family of four---especially if one of the members was ME, who hated the stuff.

I still can't abide eating it, but have turned out countless little paving-stones over the years, starting with about ten crushed Premium crackers, and the clunky cylinder of salmon laid out on a white plate, so as to dissect it from all those pesky little bones (especially the crunchy round ones---they had a fossily look to them, like something in a line-drawing in my science book). And even after I caught on to the "don't cook fish too long" trick, I marveled at the soft, mushy pinkfleshed fish, and wondered HOW LONG it took to cook those bones to that crumbly, edible stage. My Grandfather would walk up beside Mammaw as she "picked over" the fish for cooking, and pick up every little round cylinder, crunching it between his back teeth with evident enjoyment.

The silver skin had a strong fishy tang to it, and it was stripped away, leaving just the soft pinkness of the fish itself, which was crumbled into a bowl with a little minced onion, the cracker crumbs, and an egg, as well as the secret--a teaspoon or so of Blue Plate mayonnaise, which lifted the everyday dish from the level of ordinary cooks' possiblilties to a special flavor only known at OUR table.

Tablespoons of the mixture were dropped gently into melted Crisco or oil in the big black skillet; the back of the egg-turner was used to smash the patties a little flatter, and after a good crusting on the bottom, they were flipped to brown golden on the other side. Ours didn't seem to have any soft center---they looked more like crispy little pancakes with chunky bits of fish and little white or golden shards of fragrant onion.

Tartar sauce was the favored accompaniment, made up cool and tart while the patties were frying---a spoon or so of finely chopped home-canned dill pickle and an equal amount of sweet onion, cut about the size of rice---all stirred into perhaps a half-cup of cold mayo with a dribble of the salty, dilly juice from the picklejar. I liked the sauce very much, and still follow that exact recipe today, for accompanying all fried seafoods or fish of any sort. We do not, however, subscribe to Aunt G's recipe, which calls for a dash of cream of tartar, just because that's what it is.

I don't make the patties too often any more---short cans of the candypink "fancy" salmon stand in my own pantry, for Caro's favorite salad, made up like tuna, but with the tartar sauce stirred into the right-out-of-the-can fish, for a nice cool dinner to take to work, or for Summer lunches. Chris likes little bites of it on crackers as a nibble while dinner is cooking.

Chris' children remember their maternal Grandmother as making the salmon patties almost every time they visited her house---her other mainstay was fried chicken tenders, and both dishes are still favorites of them all. She was a lovely woman, slender and spare of aspect and word, but very kind to me, in my role of outsider joining her family. Her soft voice echoed her kindness and generosity of Spirit, and I remember her fondly.

Almost all the women who made those salmon patties spoke in the same soft, gentle tones, and I think perhaps the secret of the flavor and the charm lay in the pronunciation common to all: "Would Y'all want some sal-mon paddehs for supper?"

#23 racheld

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 10:50 AM

And WELCOME nola2chi! That was a lovely reminiscence, lovely post.

Edited by racheld, 10 January 2007 - 10:52 AM.

#24 NYC Mike

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 11:09 AM

Would someone care to recommend a canned brand?

I'm not really a salmon fan, growing up in NYC its biggest showing is lox on bagels and I personally think adding lox is a waste of a good bagel. :laugh: But, The Joy of has a recipe for them and the book hasn't let me down yet.

I think we will try them this weekend. What great stories to think about while making them. What romanticism!!

-Mike & Andrea

#25 zoe b

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 11:13 AM

well, if we have a reminiscence from nola2chi, and one from rachel, we can make it through the day!

My mother didn't make the salmon croquettes, but I remember shopping trips with her to Philly, ending with an elegant lady's dinner at Stouffers--Mom would have a cocktail, I wold also--shirley temple--and i wouild often order the salmon or chicken croquettes--but i think these were the ones I've read the recipe for in old cookbooks--where you make a bechamel and mix up and chill and roll in a few things and chill and probably chill and roll again and then deep fry and then make a sauce, and then commit suicide as far as I'm concerned.

and Fat Guy--I have a feeling that canned salmon predated canned tuna as a pantry staple--it truly was the one fish item that ever reached anywhere away from the coasts.

I don't think I would ever want tuna croquettes from canned tuna--hot ( canned)tuna has always made me gag--a nightmare was being served tuna casserole at a friend's house as a kid.


#26 ms. victoria

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 04:11 PM

We had salmon patties for dinner last night. I grew up in Tennessee with a father from Detroit and a mother from Tennessee. My mom made salmon patties as long as I can remember and I remember my dad talking about making them with leftover baked salmon from wealthier days before we moved to Tennessee (when I was 2).

My mom's recipe involves a stack of crushed premium crackers and an egg mixed into a can of unpicked salmon. I also remember hoping to get a patty with a bone in.

I think the prevalence may have to do with the advent of Home Economics. This is purely speculation on my part but it doesn't take too big a leap in logic.
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#27 Fat Guy

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Posted 10 January 2007 - 04:44 PM

and Fat Guy--I have a feeling that canned salmon predated canned tuna as a pantry staple--it truly was the one fish item that ever reached anywhere away from the coasts.

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I believe canned salmon predates canned tuna by about 40 years, but we're talking about a long time ago. By WWI they were both well established. I'm not sure when the trend lines crossed, but certainly during my lifetime canned salmon sales have lagged far behind canned tuna sales.

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#28 BetsyinKY

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Posted 16 January 2007 - 06:05 PM

We had salmon croquettes fairly often when I was growing up in southeastern KY (1970's). I agree with others who think it was a budget stretching food item, but we all really liked them. I liked mine with ketchup and they were always served with mashed potatoes, a green vegetable (often lima beans), and fruit of some sort (my favorite was the canned fruit cocktail....I think it's awful now, but boy did I love those bright pink cherry bits when I was little!). Like Racheld's grandfather, I loved to crunch the round "fossil-y" bones. Mom doesn't fry food much at all now, but my birthday is coming up soon...this thread is making me want to ask for croquettes for dinner!

#29 Gingersnap

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Posted 22 January 2007 - 04:57 PM

I, too, ate salmon croquettes fairly often as a child growing up in the South. Since I was notoriously obnoxious about what I could eat and what made me cough* when I ate, I suspect that finding something easy to prepare that didn't make me cough was very welcome to my mother and my grandmothers.

Our salmon croquettes had to be made with Argo Red Salmon. I don't know why, but I clearly recall being told when I got married and was collecting my favourite family recipes that good salmon croquettes could only be made with Argo Red Salmon. With my pedestrian taste, I always ate my salmon croquettes with ketchup -- Heinz only. I still occasionally eat my salmon croquettes with ketchup, though I haven't seen Argo Red Salmon in a store in years.

*As a child, I frequently told family members that certain foods would make me cough. Further description of my version of coughing is probably unwarranted here.

#30 kpurvis

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 08:04 AM

I absolutely grew up eating salmon croquettes, one of my Georgia-born mother's standard weeknight meals. She never picked out the bones -- we were told they were a source of calcium. I'm sure her version dated to the Depression, when reliable sources of protein and calcium were precious. In addition to fried patties made with canned salmon, we also had codfish balls on a regular basis. Once again: Cheap canned fish, dressed up in a way the kids would eat it.
As for Southern salmon croquette moments, don't forget "Driving Miss Daisy," when Hoke replaces the can of salmon. That's why Miss Daisy would have had all that salmon in the pantry. Depression-era women like my mother stocked up whenever the Piggy Wiggly had a sale. Just in case, you know, Hard Times came back.
Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer