Smoking Fish in 1825

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Fernandina Beach has always been a coastal town with abundant sea life. Fishing is a great way to catch your own source of protein for your family, friends, or even to trade in a local community market. Smoking fish in 1825 was a way of preserving the meat, especially when there was no refrigeration available. Pirates and sailors alike would carry the smoked fish as a staple on their vessels for long voyages at sea. Today, folks still enjoy the unique flavor – a rich smoky taste – making it a desirable culinary treat.

Two-hundred years ago, fish would have been smoked by hanging them over a fire or placing them in a smokehouse. The fire would have been made using oak, pecan, or hickory wood, or other combustible materials, and the smoke generated would slowly cook and flavor the fish. Controlling the temperature during smoking would have been more challenging in those days. Adjusting the distance between the fire and the fish or controlling the airflow to the fire was a lot more difficult than using the modern-day convenience of a backyard smoker. Factors such as the type and size of the fish, the temperature of the fire, the local season and weather conditions, and the desired level of smokiness would determine whether preserving the fish would take a few hours to several days to complete.

This labor-intensive process would have started with cleaning the fish. Leaving the scales intact, the fish would be gutted and then soaked in a solution of salt and water, known as brine, to cure and flavor the fish. In those days it would have required much more salt than today. The fish would be left to dry to permit the smoke to better adhere to the fish. Oak, abundant in Northeast Florida, would likely be the hardwood used to smoke. The fish would be cooked at a low temperature for many hours. Once cooled, the fish would be kept in a cool, dry place. This process would keep the fish edible for extended periods before the days of refrigeration.

Compared to modern smoked fish, the smoking fish in 1825 would have resulted in a saltier, dryer, and much smokier flavored fish. The flavor would be more intense and less consistent than if it were cooked today.

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