January 20, 2018
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Reader steps up with age-old recipe

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

A month ago a curious (and adventurous) reader asked for some help. Erick Hutchins of Old Town was looking for a recipe for smoked, brined alewives, which he had enjoyed years ago, but has been unable to find in stores.

In return for the help he was sure he’d receive, Hutchins offered up a recipe of his own, which he created while a student at the University of Maine back in 1967. He called it “Sciurus Carolinensis a la Oak Hall, aka Plain ol’ Boiled Squirrel.”

I’ve yet to hear back from anyone who has admitted to boiling up any squirrels (though I suspect BDN colleague Jeff Strout, who is dealing with an infestation of the critters, may be willing to try). And until Friday, I’d been unable to provide Hutchins with the alewife advice he sought.

Then the letter came. LeRoy Fretschl of St. Albans may not have the exact recipe that Hutchins was seeking — it’s simply called “Pickled Fish,” but since we Mainers are always looking for interesting ways to prepare our bountiful native foods, I thought I’d pass it along.

Here’s what Fretschl had to say:

“I haven’t used this recipe in over 25 years. It took awhile to find it but you will find it is worth the wait,” Fretschl wrote. “The end results are as good or better than anything you can buy in a store. I will write it from the original copy I received from my sister about 50 years ago.”

Here then, is Fretschl’s recipe for pickled fish:

  • Clean and skin fish cut into chunks 1½ inches.
  • Soak in salt water 24 hours (1½ cups salt to 10 cups water). Drain.
  • Soak in vinegar 24 hours. Drain.
  • Mix 2 cups white vinegar, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup white port wine, 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon mixed pickling spice.
  • Bring to a boil and let simmer for five minutes. Let cool and pour over fish. Add slices of onion. Store in refrigerator in jars with covers on.

And that’s all there is to it. If you like the recipe, give the credit to Fretschl. If you don’t, feel free to blame me.

“If I remember right, I used to get about one-half of a five-gallon plastic bucket of fish, clean, skin, remove backbone,” Fretschl wrote. “I used a food-grade plastic bucket … to soak fish in a cool corner of the basement. I think the broth will cover about five pints of fish. If you have more, double the broth recipe. I used a nice, mild onion sliced about one-quarter inch. Stagger onions and fish in jar. The onions are as good as the fish.”

Fretschl said the recipe works equally well on suckers and pickerel. And finally, a warning: “If your stove vents outside you’re OK. [Otherwise] cook the broth outside as it will smell up the house,” he wrote.

Penobscot salmon trap update

After a week of wet weather, streams and rivers in these parts are still a bit swollen. That may be having a slight effect on the annual migration of Atlantic salmon that return to the Penobscot River, according to a biologist.

Oliver Cox, a fisheries biologist for the Maine Department of Marine Resources’ Bureau of Sea-Run Fisheries and Habitat, issues periodic updates on the salmon count at the fish trap his crew manages at the Veazie Dam.

“The flows [on the Penobscot] have been 10,000 to 25,000 [cubic feet per second] above normal,” Cox wrote. “That translates into a lot of spilling [over the dam]. Good for smolts, but it tends to make upstream passage more of a challenge.”

As of Tuesday, 37 returning salmon had been trapped at the Veazie Dam. That’s still above the average number trapped on that date in the 2000s, 1990s and 1980s. But some clarification is needed.

“Average catch to date is influenced by when the trap was opened for the season,” Cox explained. “Typically the trap was operational during the 1980s by May 17, [in the] 1990s by May 5 and [in the] 2000s by May 9.”

In addition, his crew’s attempts to capture other fish at the trap have been limited by high water.

“Given the high flows, the wire mesh lining used to trap river herring and other small-bodied fishes has been overtop at times,” he wrote. “So the lack of alewives in the trap [one as of Tuesday] may be a reflection of our inability to capture them in the high flows.”

More turkey tales on tap

The state’s turkey hunters have two weeks left to bag their birds, and for the past week or so we at the BDN have been actively seeking stories about the most interesting hunts.

We’ve received a few so far, including one about a 10-year-old hunter who bagged a 26½-pound bird on his first day afield. But we’d love to see more.

You can pass your information along at my email; I’ll put together a compilation of a few of the most interesting hunts sometime next week.

Stay tuned!

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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