I hear that few New Yorkers take the time to visit the Statue of Liberty. And that Angelenos rarely make the trek to the Watts Towers. I’m betting that natives of St. Louis leave the St. Louis Arch to tourists, that the folks of Rapid City, South Dakota, see Mount Rushmore as just an incised rock.
And so it is in my little town of Oxford, Mississippi. I live within six blocks of Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, but I rarely swing open the door. A walk-through of the primitive-style Greek Revival house he bought in 1930, the place where he wrote the novels that earned him a Nobel, is top-of-mind for nearly every tourist who comes to town, but I’m too jaded for that.
Never mind that I’m making a study of the South my life’s work. Never mind that Faulkner was, arguably, America’s greatest writer. Never mind that the house has been restored with such sensitivity that you get the sense Faulkner just walked out the back door, in search of a pack of smokes and a drink of whiskey.
Last week, with a tourist in tow, I took the tour. This tourist was also a journalist so we got an all-access pass. We got an up-close look at Faulkner’s bookshelves, his bed, his kitchen. While in the kitchen, Bill Griffith, the sharp-tongued and keen-eyed curator, reeled off stories about Faulkner and food.
He told us of a cook, in the employ of the family, who refused to clean and cook doves that the great man shot, for she knew in her heart of hearts that upon death, doves bear souls to heaven. He told us that Faulkner’s favorite dish was salmon croquettes, and that the recipe he favored was easy to come by. “It’s on the can,” said Bill. “You can still find the stuff in the grocery store. I think it’s called pink salmon. Something like that.”
The next day, I headed to the grocery store, to an aisle I don’t often frequent. The cans were stashed down low. Deviled ham. Sardines in soybean oil. Sockeye salmon. Red salmon. And yes, pink salmon. There was no single can that contained pink salmon and came blazoned with a recipe, but I did find a can with a label that looked like a holdover from Faulkner’s era.
Back at home, I found a simple recipe, one that I could imagine Faulkner would have enjoyed, in Martha Foose’s new book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. (Like Faulkner, Foose is a Mississippian.) Her recipe is of the Community Cookbook School. It involves crumbled saltine crackers. And minced onion. And dill pickle relish. It somehow recalls Mississippi in the 1950s, when Faulkner was in his salmon-croquette-eating prime.
Here’s my adaptation of Martha’s instructions, filtered through memories of my mother’s salmon croquettes, skillet-fried two states over in 1970s Georgia:
1 16-ounce can pink salmon, drained and picked clean of stray bones and skin
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
Dash garlic salt
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon dill pickle relish
10-12 saltine crackers, crumbled
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except the flour and vegetable oil. Shape into 6 to 8 cakes about 1/2 inch thick. Refrigerate for an hour.
Heat a large skillet to medium-high. Sprinkle the croquettes with flour. Add the oil and cook the croquettes for 6 to 8 minutes, or until brown, turning them halfway through.
Drain on paper towels and serve with stone-ground grits and braised mustard greens.