Maria Parloa blessed us with a recipe for escalloped fish in Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, which Washburn-Crosby Co. published in 1880. This company’s successor General Mills brought her proven receipts back to America, by reprinting part of this book in their Special Silver Dollar City Edition, sometime in the mid-twentieth century.
Both these companies are known for their production of Gold Medal flour, which they successively produced; thus, this product has been on the market for nearly two and a half centuries. (For more details on Miss Parloa, Washburn-Crosby Co., General Mills, and 19th century American cooking, see 1880’s Clam Chowder-2017/01/30, 1880’s Minced Cabbage-2017/04/24, and 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies-2017/10/30.)
This 19th century cook book was one of many written by Maria Parloa, who was an important figure in the gastronomical world of her day. She taught an abundance of classes at her own two schools, as well as the Boston Cooking School, the home of Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book, which was forerunner to the renowned Fanny Farmer Cook Book.
In Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, Parloa shared modern techniques and included 93 “essential” utensils for the kitchen, which boasted of such items as an apple corer, melon mold, and squash strainer. Her writings catered to the affluent, for she recommended that a dinner for twelve need cost no more than $25, this at a time when an unskilled worker made about $1 per day.
In this book’s preface, the author’s desire for clear, complete, and concise directions is set forth, but these are vague compared to our present standards. Her instructions, however, have far greater detail than those in many of the contemporary cook books of her day.
This recipe called for five pounds of fish, that which was normally required to sustain a family of six at the main, mid-day meal; by contrast, this same amount provided for twelve guests at a dinner party, as these hospitable affairs were always profuse in delectable dishes. My directive only calls for one pound of salmon for four people, because this is a rich food for our relatively sedentary bodies; in these former days people were highly active, requiring many more calories than we do today.
As with this outmoded receipt, things call for adaptation; we must learn to adjust to the essential needs of any given time. Our living God perpetually covers us in all instances of unforeseen change, bringing healthy modification, if we ask believing. At times this process is slow; thus, patience is critical to success.
This is a joyful race we are running; nothing is too difficult for us! We simply align our hearts to the “recipe” our Father is dictating at each turn, purposing to not be alarmed when our five pounds of fish becomes one pound, or with equal intention, staying calm when it reverses back to five pounds.
Recently I enjoyed escalloped salmon with friends that I hadn’t seen for a long time; our reunion was marked with excellence in both fellowship and food. This dish is a winner for special occasions, especially when served with next week’s entry 1880’s minced cabbage.
General Mills’, mid-20th century Special Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).
James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p. 310.
1880’s Escalloped Salmon Yields: 4 servings. Total prep time: 1 hr & 15 min/ active prep time: 45 min/ baking time: 30 min. This is adapted from a recipe in General Mills’, mid-20th century Silver Dollar City Edition of Maria Parloa’s Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book (Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880).
Note: salmon may be prepared ahead of time following steps 1-8; when doing so, reheat this for a total of 1 hr before serving.
1/4 cup bread crumbs (May purchase ready-made, or grind 2 slices of stale bread in a dry food processor; make extra, as these freeze well; for stale bread, leave pieces out for about 8 hours.)
1-1 1/2 lb salmon fillet (A minimum of 1 lb is needed if fillet is boneless and skinless, more if there are bones and skin.)
1 tsp salt, or to taste (Real Salt is best for optimum health; available in health section of local supermarket.)
1 cup whipping cream
1/8 cup water
1 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp white pepper, or to taste
Steamed rice, cooked according to directions on package
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- If salmon fillet is large, cut in pieces that will fit in a 3-quart saucepan. Place in pan and cover with salted water-add 1/2 tsp salt; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until center of thickest part of salmon is opaque, when pierced with a fork. Remove from liquid and cool fish; reduce broth over high heat.
- If preparing your own bread crumbs, grind 2 pieces or more of stale bread in dry food processor, pressing pulse button repeatedly until crumbs are fine. Set aside, freeze extras.
- Heat cream over medium heat in a small saucepan, only until a soft boil is formed, stirring frequently; watch carefully. As soon as it barely boils, reduce heat to medium/low.
- While heating cream, dissolve flour in water. With a wire whisk, stir flour mixture into softly boiling cream, to which you have added 2 tbsp of reduced broth; cook until sauce is thick, beating frequently. Season with 1/2 tsp salt and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings; set aside.
- Start rice, following directions on package (wait if you are preparing salmon ahead).
- Butter a small, 1-quart baking dish; place a light layer of sauce in bottom of dish.
- Skin and carefully debone fish, placing bite-size pieces in baking dish on top of layer of cream, as you go. When all the salmon is thus prepared, press down on fish to make compact; cover the top with the remaining cream sauce. (If you are making this ahead of time, place dish in refrigerator; in which case, an hour will be needed to bake cold fish; start rice when you place refrigerated salmon in oven.)
- Just before placing this in oven, spread bread crumbs on top of sauce. If a skim has formed on top of cream, gently break apart with a spoon, making surface wet again, so crumbs can stick; then, bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven to meld all flavors.
- Serve with 1880’s Minced Cabbage, which is next week’s entry.