Salt your fish this summer, enjoy them next winter

by Betty Wrenn Day - Posted on Jun 25, 2014 - 02:05 PM

Photo: A.J. Hurst makes his own crab pots when not fishing them, and is looking forward to fall when the spot arrive and it’s fish-salting time. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

A.J. Hurst makes his own crab pots when not fishing them, and is looking forward to fall when the spot arrive and it’s fish-salting time. Photo by Betty Wrenn Day

Using salt is one of the world’s oldest methods of preserving food; and fish is perhaps the oldest known food preserved in this manner. Using dry salt or brine was the only widely known way to preserve fish until the 19th century.
In this part of the country, salting fish was an almost standard practice each fall. It’s not done so much these days but there are still some families who continue during winter months to enjoy a breakfast or dinner of saltfish just as their forefathers had done. A.J. and Thelma Hurst of Bavon are salting fish and then enjoying how Thelma prepares them. Working together as a team, this is how they proceed.

“When the spot come in you, first scale and gut them and then remove the heads. Some people do not, we do. Next you split the fish and sometimes we remove the bone and sometimes we leave it in. Wash fish good then cover fish with ice to which salt has been added. That draws all the blood out of the fish. Let them set for a while and then drain. Take each fish and completely cover in plenty of salt. When that’s done, cover bottom of bucket with salt.

We used to use lard tins but you can’t buy them anymore (prior to lard tins crocks were used). Layer salt-covered fish in bucket and then cover top with more salt. You can’t use too much salt. I guess we use about 20 pounds for one bucket of fish. We sprinkle black pepper over the top. That keeps any flies or bugs away. Then the bucket is stored in the garage.”  

This longtime tried-and-tested way to preserve fish is what might be called a brine method. The fish, as they set in the salt, will make a brine and are wet, not dry, when removed from the bucket. With codfish, you find the fish salted and then dried.