Monday, December 30, 2013

The Lumbermen's Bill of Fare.

The New York Times of November 4, 1882 carried an article which had appeared in the Bangor Whig (Maine) of a few days previously:

An interesting souvenir comes from the lumber woods of the North in the form of a communication written very legibly on a fine sheet of birch bark and incased in an envelope composed of the same material. The letter is dated Mattamiscontis, No. 2, Range 7, about 15 miles from any settlement, in a lumber camp where Mr John McGregor has a crew of men engaged in cutting wood for his factory. The writer gives some idea of how men live in a logging camp: “Our camp is built of rough logs of poplar laid up on the sides about 4 feet and running up to a pitch in the centre of about 10 feet. The roof is covered with cedar split 4 feet long and laid the same as shingles, making a very good covering though not very tight. The floor is made of poles laid on the ground. We have two stoves, on a large heater, three feet long, and the other a cooking stove. For sleeping apartments we have a berth made the length of the camp, which is 19½ feet, and accommodates 14 men. In front of this and on a range with the stoves is the ‘deacon seat’ of the same length as the camp. Our living consists of pork and beans, bread and cookies, gingerbread and old-fashioned doughnuts, dried apples, beef, codfish, mackerel, tea and molasses. For breakfast we have pork and beans hot from the oven, with gingerbread cookies and tea. For dinner, which is eaten in the woods, we have beans, doughnuts. And bread, with tea, and occasionally beef. For supper we have codfish or mackerel and potatoes, with fried pork. We get any amount of fresh perch and pickerel close by the camp, in Mattamiscontis Lake. Fish forms a prominent item in our diet.

I don’t need to search the 1.3 million words in the blog archive to know that I have not written about pickerel previously, so naturally it must be the min-topic of the day.

The pickerel is a fresh-water fish from the pike family (Esocidae,) and there are two sub-species of American pickerel. A commonly-quoted saying from 1524 says that - "Turkeys, Carp, Hops, Pickerel, and Beer, came into England all in one year," but it is almost certainly erroneous for hops and carp, so may well be for pickerel too.

I doubt that the lumberman’s pickerel was dressed with a fine sauce, but in a more elegant venue than a lumber camp, the following recipe would be delicious.

Put two ounces of butter in a small saucepan, set it on the fire, and when melted, mix in it a tablepoonful of flour; stir for one minute, add one-fourth of carrot, sliced, stir now and then, and when nearly fried, add also a pint of broth, half a pint of claret wine, a small onion, and a clove of garlic, chopped; two cloves, a bay-leaf, two stalks of parsley, one of thyme, salt, and pepper; boil gently about one hour and forty minutes, and strain. If it boils away, add a little broth. Put it back on the fire with about half an ounce of butter, boil gently for about ten minutes, and it is ready for use.
This sauce is excellent with any kind of boiled fish, but especially with trout, pike, and pickerel.
Hand-book of practical cookery, for ladies and professional cooks (1867) by Pierre Blot

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