Hundred-Year-Old Advice on Why We Should Eat Fish

The introduction to the “Fish” chapter in a hundred-year-old cookbook explains why we should eat fish:

Fish

If more fish and less meat were used in the daily meals, it would help to reduce the cost of living. Fish provides the same nutrients as meat at a much smaller cost, and furnishes a food that is not only palatable but easily digested.

Whitefish, haddock, halibut, cod, flounder, smelts, perch, pickerel, sunfish and crappies belong to the white-fleshed family. Salmon, shad, lake trout, butterfish, and herring being to the red-fleshed family.

As the white-fleshed fish is considered more easy of digestion than the red-fleshed, it should be selected for invalids, convalescents or those suffering from weak digestion.

Fish should be eaten while fresh and in season; then it provides a delicate protein food. Stale fish is poisonous, so great care should be used in its selection. Fish contains albumen, and as albumen (which is like the white of egg) coagulates at a low temperature, it should be cooked at a temperature below the boiling point for water.

The Housewife’s Cook Book by Lilla Frich (1917)

I find the last sentence about cooking fish at a temperature below the boiling point of water a bit befuddling.ย  Have you ever heard that it was important to cook fish at low temperatures? I often put fish in the oven at 400ยฐ F. or sear on top of the stove using high temperatures.

51 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Advice on Why We Should Eat Fish

  1. No I’ve never heard that last line before, and the first line about reducing the cost of living no longer applies. I live 8 miles from the ocean, but fish costs a bundle around here!!

      1. I am not able to comment or even click ‘Like’ on your site, so I want to tell you that that is quite a collection and I will pass it on!! Thank you.

        1. You should be able to comment. It just has a delay as the site works such that I have to approve all the comments.

          That keeps the comments from being a flood of Spam type comments. Those seem to have died down, but at one time I’d get several per day, all directing towards Chinese or Russian sites.

        2. I’ve posed some WWI posters in various threads on the main part of the blog I need to add to that page of it, but thank you for the thumbs up.

      1. When I was a kid here (I live where I grew up) my father caught fish all the time, as he was quite the fisherman. I catch my share, but not like he did.

        I note this as we were one Catholic family that had fish every Friday long after there was no specific requirement that this must be done. We just had fish in the freezer or refrigerator all the time, so Friday was a good time to opt for it.

        Anyhow, while I like fresh caught trout still, and still catch my share ( http://holschershub.blogspot.com/2017/06/from-stream-to-grill.html ) I’m always caught off guard when its on a menu, or let alone I’m somewhere else where people are excited to see it on a menu, let alone to find it in a grocery store. I guess we’re living that poster noted above a bit.

  2. On the advice of a cook who knows her stuff, I started cooking my salmon in the oven at roughly 300F, and I was amazed at how much better the results were. (Time depends on the size of the fish, of course. I usually do a larger piece that takes about 30-35 minutes — just test for flaking.) I put it on a bed of finely chopped onion, slicked up with olive oil and dusted with whichever spices I want to use, then cover it with thinly sliced lemon. It’s so good just writing about it makes me want to buy some today.

    1. I’m going to experiment with baking fish at lower temperatures. When I buy frozen fish at the store, I think that the package suggests baking fish at very high temperatures – but our grandmothers may have known a thing or two about how to cook fish. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I certainly prefer lower temperatures, as I think it preserves the flavour better. I tend to bake or steam white fish (with additional ingredients) and grill oily fish.

    1. Yes, we should be rewarded for being good. . . Why doesn’t it work like that?

      Your comment reminds me of how President Hoover promised people, “a chicken in every pot” prior to the Great Depression. Apparently chicken was a relatively high-priced food back then.

  4. So do I, Anne. I eat inexpensive fish like sardines or canned tuna 1-2 times a week. I only have more expensive fish when it goes on sale. If only it were cheaper. I must say I envy the people of 1917 in this regard. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I think that varied enormously depending upon where you lived. If you lived near the coast, cheap fish. In the interior of the country, not so much unless you caught it yourself.

    1. It’s intriguing that generally accepted practices for baking/broiling fish have changed over the course of the last century. I wonder why (and how) people’s ideas about the proper temperature to cook fish changed.

  5. Fish is very expensive here in the UK – sadly this article wouldn’t be true nowadays as meat (especially chicken) is much cheaper. And we live right by the sea. I’m also intrigued by the temperatures suggested for cooking fish because of the albumen – something I’ve never heard before, and like you, Sheryl, I regularly cook fish very quick and very hot.

    1. Fish is also expensive in the U.S. The advice for cooking fish in this old cookbook doesn’t seem quite “right” to me, but maybe they knew something we don’t. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I am not a big fish eater, although I do enjoy the “white fleshed fish”. Like you I cook it high but I would imagine slow cooked would make it very moist…I should try it in my slow cooker…I would imagine it would take all day. Give me beef and tators and I am a happy camper, but these days it is more tators and less beef!

    1. I’m often surprised how similar the nutrition advice a hundred years ago was to current beliefs, though often the logic behind the advice was different. Of course, sometimes the advice back then totally contradicted what we believe today.

  7. In my experience fish should always be cooked lightly for best results. But I think the more fatty ones, like salmon, tolerate higher temperatures better. Frying fish optimally takes less time and less heat than meat. Turning the pieces in flour mixed with salt and spice before frying will do them good as well. When I make fish soup I only add the filet pieces after the other ingredients have boiled and let the pot simmer off the heat.

    1. I never thought about it in a systematic way, but I know that I generally broil salmon; and coat with flour and then fry perch and some of the other smaller fish. I’m now going to have pay more attention to which varieties are fatty fish, and adjust my cooking practices accordingly.

  8. Cooking temps actually depend on type of fish, as well as thickness. We have fish at least twice a week. Sales are plentiful here as we have at least four chains in competition! We picked up ahi tuna steaks yesterday, but we usually eat either salmon or steelhead trout (similar, but nice and flakey). We also eat canned tuna, sardines, kippers, anchovies, as well as shellfish – but we buy the more expensive canned fish as the taste is so much better. We do not ever fry anything, but we do sautรฉ fish sometimes! Love it.

    1. You’re fortunate to have several chains competing. I’m slightly envious of the wide variety of fish that is readily available to you. I’ve had trout in restaurants, but I don’t know whether they were steelhead trout or some other variety.

  9. I eat fish every Friday, usually a small piece of salmon. I put it on a microwave safe plate, sprinkle salt & pepper & dill, a little butter or olive oil, cover it with plastic wrap and hit REHEAT. Comes out perfect every time.

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