This is George Hunt's translation of the Kwakuitl version of a Kwakuitl Indian recipe, told in the Kwakuitl language by his wife, Elie Hunt, circa 1914. [Note that there are many ways of preparing salmon, Mrs. Hunt recorded over thirty, most are to preserve it for storage. This recipe is one meant to be used to eat salmon fresh.]
This is especially interesting because it sheds light on the truth that food preparation is more of a cultural matter than a physical process. In other words, a persons role in their society is reflected in how they serve food to their guests.
Catching the Salmon."This is when the man goes catching salmon at night.
"That is what is called by the river people "taking salmon with hooks at night up the river," when they are going to dry the roasted dog-salmon for winter.
"Dog-salmon are speared by the river people at the mouth of the river when they are going to eat them at once, while the dog-salmon are still phosphorescent. Then they will not keep a long time without getting moldy when they are roasted, for they are fat.
"Now I shall talk about the salmon speared at the mouth of the river when it is still phosphorescent. When the man who spears the salmon gets one, he goes home as soon as he has speared it.
Cooking the Salmon
"His wife at once takes an old mat and spreads it over her back; then she takes her belt and puts it on over the old mat on her back; then she takes along a large basket in which to carry the dot-salmon on her back. She goes to the canoe of her husband and puts four dog-salmon into her carrying-basket. Then she goes up the beach to the place where she is going to cut them. She puts them on an old mat, which is spread on the ground outside the house.
"As soon as she has thrown them on the ground, she takes her fish-knife and sharpens it; and after she has sharpened it, she cuts off the gills of the dog-salmon. When the gills are off, she cuts around the neck, but she does not cut off the head from the backbone. Then she cuts from the back of the neck down to four finger-widths from the tail on the upper side. Now a thin strip of flesh is left on the backbone. As soon as the cut reaches down to the belly, she turns it around, and she begins to cut from the tail upwards to the back of the neck.
"As soon as she takes off the backbone, she takes her roasting-tongs and takes the slime and rubs it over the roasting-tongs, so that they may not get burned when they stand by the fire of the house. Then she winds cedar-bark around the tongs one span from the bottom of the roasting-tongs; and when this is done, she takes one of the cut salmon and puts it crosswise into the roasting-tongs. Then she takes cedar-bark and ties it tight above the cut salmon; and after she has tied it, she takes another salmon and puts it the other way, above the one that she put in first. Then she again takes cedar-bark and ties it above the salmon.
"After she finishes tying it, she splits cedar-wood, long and slender pieces. These are called "the lock". Then she pushes one of these on each side, two finger-widths from the edge of the salmon-meat, through between the legs of the roasting-tongs, lengthwise of the salmon; and after she has finished this, she pushes long ones across the salmon and the "locks"; which she first put on. Now there is one on each side of the roasting-tongs in this manner: Then the same is done on the other side.
"After this is finished, the woman puts (the tongs) up by the side of the fire. She first turns the meat side towards the fire; an when it is done, she turns it around to the skin side.
Serving the salmon."As soon as that is done, the man requests permission from his wife to invite his friends to come and eat the roasted salmon while it is warm. As soon as his wife tells him to go ahead and call them, the man goes and invites them.
"Then his wife takes a mat, which is to be the food-mat of the guests of her husband; then she spreads a mat for the guests of her husband to sit on; and it does not take long before her husband comes back followed by his guests, for they try to come before the roasted salmon cools off.
"Immediately they sit down on the mat that has been spread out; and when they are all in, the woman takes the food-mat and spreads it in front of her husband's guests. Then she goes back and takes the two roasted salmon in the tongs; and she takes them out, one for each two men . Then she lays them skin down, on the food-mat. When there are four men, there are two food-mats, and there is one roasted salmon.
"There is not oil for dipping, for the dog-salmon is very fat while it is still phosphorescent, when it is jumping in the mouth of the rivers. Then the guests themselves break it and eat the salmon speared at the mouth of the river.
"Early in the morning, dog-salmon speared at the mouth of the river is not eaten, for it is fat it is only eaten in the afternoon and evening. Whenever it is eaten in the morning, it makes those who eat it feel sleepy the whole day long, for it is very fat. Therefore they are afraid to eat it in the morning.
"As soon as the guests finish eating it, the man takes what is left and eats with it with his wife, while his guests drink water freshly drawn. After they finish drinking, the guests go out. They only wash their hands in their houses; and after the man has finished eating with his wife, he gathers the bones and skin left by his, puts them on a mat, and throws them into the sea on the beach. This is all about salmon speared at the mouth of the river.