Smoked Fish and the Island Life
I had to go up to Ashland earlier this week for work, leaving one morning, returning the next afternoon. For those who donít know, Ashland is as close to the top of the state as Janesville is to the bottom. In other words, a LONG drive. I have some familiarity with the place as my family would occasionally vacation in and around Bayfield when we were kids, and we would generally make a pit stop in Ashland on the way there.
My folks and several of their close coupled friends spent a lot of BC (before children) time together on one of the Apostle Islands during the late 50ís/early 60ís. Their venue was a pristine lake beach and a cabin built on some land purchased by my father and a few of his buddies during their swinginí bachelor days. Their outings were documented via dozens of fabulous Kodachrome slides, many of them showing my handsome dad on water skis with strange girls balanced on his shoulders. (How they waterskied without wetsuits in water that must have been 34 degrees, Iíll never know.) These slides capture a perfect moment in their lives, when they were all young, tanned, beautiful and unburdened by responsibility. Their sole pursuit on these holidays was to relax, enjoy life and their time spent outdoors. My parents were like Frankie and Annette of the Northwoods--think Beach Blanket Bingo, but with bears instead of bongos.
In the mid 1970ís, my familyís interest in the land was sold to the government as part of the creation of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. I often wonder if I would have been a different person had I been able to spend every summer on the island. Thereís the Island Lisa, windswept hair, (with the perfect amount of natural blond highlights), putting the finishing touches to her most recent novel, while making the Olympic team in sea kayaking.
Instead of ferrying to an island, (and driving six hours with five kids!) my family would go camping for extended periods at a county park on the Mississippi River, just south of La Crosse. Not a Great Lake, but on the water; and we still managed to have a great time swimming, canoeing and exploring. River Lisa didnít make any Olympic team, or write a novel, but does have blond highlights and is doing just fine, thanks.
After the sale of the island property, in addition to the LaCrosse trips, we sometimes did manage to go camping way up north, and we always made a stop at one of the many shops selling smoked fish. My folks would pick up some whitefish, lake salmon or trout and we kids would eat it straight from the wrapper on a picnic table outside; setting upon it like a pack of hungry baby raccoons, our greasy smoky fishy fingers smearing the plastic table cloth, our clothing, and every other surface in sight.
So itís been awhile since Iíve had good freshly smoked fish. Thus, while in Ashland this week, when my meeting concluded, my boss indulged me on a hunt for it. Shops selling it are few and far between these days, and it took a few false hits on my smart phone (most wanting me to drive up to Bayfield) until a knowledgeable hotel receptionist came to the rescue and pointed us to a local inn which sold fresh and smoked fish in their bait shop. We sampled liberally, bought quite a bit, and made a stop at a Walmart for a Styrofoam cooler and ice. Thus, we were good for the 6+ hour trip home.
Supper last night was a treasure. Thinly sliced baguette, lightly toasted in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, then once cooled, spread with a thin layer of good cream cheese, topped with a bit of peppery watercress, some boneless sugar smoked lake trout and a dusting of fresh lemon zest. Served with an icy bottle of sauvignon blanc, it was a perfect meal for a hot summer night. Even if we donít exactly have a lake view from our deck or need a ferry to get there.
Do you have any sources for freshly caught locally smoked fish down in our neck of the woods? Please let us know where to find it. Also, if you have any recipes for using it, please share. I still have some left!