Last year, my friend Adam at Unorthodox Epicure and I had a recipe Throwdown over one of our childhood favorite meals—Porcupine Balls. Of course, when it comes to reliving our childhood favorites, we were both winners. Since there was no judging, neither of us could have rightly lost, after all.
A while back, we were talking about some of our other childhood faves, and the subject of Salmon Patties came up. We decided to do it all again, and share both of our recipes with you.
As I have written about so many times, my Granny was a tremendous influence in my life in general, and especially in how my interest in cooking began. Until the last few years of her life, 98% of my memories of her took place in the kitchen. Her kitchen. My kitchen. The kitchen at the Catholic school I attended. The kitchen at the Convent attached to that same school. The kitchen at her church. The kitchen at her friends’ homes.
She was always cooking. For her family, friends, neighbors, and for complete strangers. If you were sick, she cooked for you. If you got a good report card, she cooked for you. If it was your birthday, anniversary, or just Tuesday, she cooked for you. If she wasn’t busy cooking actual meals, she was busy making her own homemade yogurt, and her homemade yogurt popsicles for us grandkids to snack on.
As any self-respecting Southern woman would do, she prepared after school snacks such as homemade mac and cheese or fried chicken livers for us.
But she also was very ahead of her time in regards to organic and other health foods. We would venture not only to the grocery store once a week, but also to the Vitamin and Health Food store a few doors down. I would get a strawberry-banana smoothie, sweetened with honey, and some good fruit leather. She would by all of our daily vitamins—there were enough to choke a horse—and also carob candy treats to feed us in lieu of chocolate. I still remember them very vividly tasting pretty much exactly like a Tootise Roll. And yogurt covered raisins, alfalfa sprouts, sunflower seed meal, and all sorts of similarly bizarre ingredients.
In the afternoon, I would make mud pies out of mud and rocks and sticks, and place globs of them on the bricks lining the driveway. After rising from my nap, I would find that they had magically turned into sunflower seed and raisin cookies…Salty, sweet, nutty…I have never been able to replicate them, and can’t find a recipe that even comes close.
And each one of us had our own favorite meal that she would prepare when it was our “special day”.
My sister loved her mac and cheese, and always with canned beets. Have I mentioned lately how much I despise beets?
Other faves were Chicken A La King, Chicken and Dumplings (the fluffy kind), Vegetable Beef Soup (the universal favorite in our family), and Creamed Potatoes (always served with ham). My dad’s favorite was Chop Chop—which was pork chops, browned in a pot, and covered with canned chow mein vegetables, French cut green beans, and soy sauce. I am sure the recipe came off of a package of La Choy something or other in the 1960’s, but MAN, was it good.
But me? My favorite was her Salmon Patties. And I guess I can’t really say they were 100 percent HER Salmon Patties, because they were loosely based on a Heloise column from the 1960’s. Tragically, we did not know this, and her recipe went missing for a number of years after she (my Granny) died. In fact, her entire recipe tin was unaccounted for—and it was the thing that most of wanted to find most desperately. It was beige plastic, with a sort of smokey clear plastic top. And it had come from the Autumn Harvest line of dishes that she had used for years.
I tried many recipes for Salmon Patties over the years, and loved many of them. From a strictly culinary standpoint, many of them were probably “better” than my Granny’s. But they were never the same. They could have contained 24k gold flakes and been dressed with the most expensive caviar money can buy, but they were worthless to someone trying to relive a fond memory. Also worth mentioning, my grandpa “Papa”, had a voice like an angel. Sometimes when Granny was cooking salmon patties, he would sing “Some Enchanted Evening”, substituting in the words “Salmon Chanted Evening”. He was a card!
When my grandfather passed away a few years after her, their home had to finally be emptied. Very sad times, but also lots of good memories popping up around every corner, on every shelf, behind every book. But the recipe tin in question was not to be found.
After most of the family had been through, claiming the things that meant the most to them, I finally mustered up the guts to go walk through myself. Of course, I went straight to the kitchen, and took the most highly treasured items in the house—at least from my perspective. An old, giant, well-worn aluminum bowl, which had, on countless Thanksgivings contained enough cornbread stuffing to sink a battleship. The two yellowed plastic mixing spoons, one with chips out of the bottom of it, which had stirred innumerable pots of soup. And the old 2 oz Tupperware containers that always held our daily vitamins. I filled that aluminum bowl with all sorts of trinkets from the kitchen that I wouldn’t sell for all the money in the world.
I went for one last pass through the kitchen. Got down on my hands and knees to look through the bottom cabinets that had been emptied a few days earlier—the contents of which were sitting around in boxes and on countertops. Just had to be sure nothing of hers would wind up in the hands of someone who wouldn’t appreciate it, and would, most likely, throw it away. As I looked in one of the empty cabinets, I started to close the door, when I noticed a small bit of paper sticking out from the side that was obscured by the front wall of the cabinet. I reached in, and pulled out….THE BOX!! The recipe box that everyone had wanted to find. I opened it, and started leafing through it. The recipes that we had wanted so much to find were there. Her lemonade cake recipe, hand scrawled on a faded and yellowed index card. And her Salmon Patties.
I made them as soon as I could, but was horrified to discover this was not her recipe. They were good. But they weren’t hers. So I spent some time experimenting until I came up with a recipe that is very close to Granny’s.
Here, for you to live one of my favorite childhood moments, is the Salmon Patty I grew up on. I hope you enjoy it. And for the record—peas. You serve them with peas. And ketchup.
Note: almost all recipes for salmon patties call for canned salmon. I use fresh, because those weirdly soft little vertebral bones in the can creep me out. You can eat them if you wish.
Mostly Like Granny’s Salmon Patties
- 16 ounces fresh salmon, cooked ( or 1 14 oz can)
- 1/2 cup diced sweet onion or green onion ( my fave)
- 3/4 cup flour
- 2 beaten eggs
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- Oil, for cooking
Into a large bowl, fake fish. Toss with onions, salt and pepper. Sprinkle flour over the top, and mix until combined with a fork. Mix in the beaten eggs. Whisk baking soda into buttermilk. Stir into salmon mixture.
Pour oil to 1/4″ depth in a heavy skillet. Over medium high heat until a drop of flour sizzles vigorously. Using a 1 1/2 inch cookie dough scoop, or a tablespoon, drop uniform sizes of batter into hot oil. Flatten slightly with back of spoon. Cook until brown on the bottom, then flip over and cook the other side until brown–about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and serve warm.
Now, I did mention this was a Throwdown, right? If you haven’t met Adam, you’ll have to follow me over to check out his recipe now. I love Adam, because he’s super smart, and has that wry sense of humor that other smart people really appreciate. Yes, in this scenario, I am claiming to be smart! So let’s go see what he’s up to, shall we?