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Salt Fish Cakes
- 1 pound salt codfish
- 2 cups water
- 2 cups flour
- 1 onion chopped and diced
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon garlic
- 1 teaspoon chives
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup vegetable oil for frying
- Put the fish in a bowl, cover with warm water and soak for 2 hours or longer, according to the saltiness and hardness of the fish. Drain, rinse, and place in a saucepan with boiling water to cover. Simmer gently, covered, until the fish is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, remove any bones and skin, and shred fish finely.
- Add the seasonings to taste with salt, if needed, and pepper. If the mixture is too loose, stir in a little more flour until it is firm enough to pick up with a spoon.
- Heat the oil in a large, heavy frying pan. Spoon the batter in pan and fry the fishcakes, as many at a time as the pan will conveniently hold, until brown on both sides, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
- Serve hot as a first course. Serve as accompaniment to drinks. Makes about 20 larger fish cakes.
Anne Marie Herman will spend an entire afternoon cooking food and frying fish cakes — but as soon as she places a plate of fish cakes on the table, they’re gone.
“Sometimes I even try to hide it but they find it before the meal,” Herman said.
Herman said her fish cakes are always a hit among her friends in the Caribbean Association of Madison (CAM). She orders small boxes of codfish from Canada, prepares a batter, and fries them in a large pan so she can make a lot of them at once. Members often ask her if she brought “fritters” to meetings or gatherings.
“Fish cakes are another thing I make often. You take codfish, you boil it — because it has a lot of sodium in it, so you wash it first. Then, you put it in the pot to boil,” Herman said.
However, fish cakes are not the only dish she enjoys cooking. Sometimes, Herman’s kitchen will smell of jerk chicken, coconut bread with chocolate chips, fried banana, and other foods that remind her of home.
“I was born in the Caribbean Island St. Lucia. But when I was much younger, I used to cook for my older brothers. That’s how I started cooking, real cooking,” Herman said.
Her brothers, Jerome and Robert, were taxi drivers who worked in the middle of the town offering rides to tourists. They did not have time to cook so Herman cooked for them.
“Growing up in St. Lucia with my mother and siblings, I learned to do what is considered domestic work in the home. This includes — but not limited to — cooking, baking, washing, sewing and cleaning,” she said.
Herman also worked at a local neighborhood bakery where she made stews and baked bread. This was one of her earliest jobs growing up. The bakery had an old brick oven shaped like an igloo with wood and charcoal inside.
At the age of 24, she married her husband of 50 years. He was a member of the United States military and stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They raised two children in Colorado and later moved to Wisconsin. At first, Herman had to adjust to food in the United States — everything was fried.
“I would say American food versus Caribbean food has some differences,” she said.
When she arrived in Madison in 1974, she could not find Caribbean food in the local grocery stores, but over the years that has changed significantly. Chicago and Milwaukee were the closest areas where she could find a minimal supply of Caribbean produce or restaurant with Caribbean influence.
“I want to make a record of what I cook. Everything I make, my husband and my son or whoever comes and eats it. It’s all good,” she said.
She’s published two cookbooks: “Anne Marie’s Family Favorite Recipes With A Caribbean Twist” and “Positive Affirmation – Fear No More,” a memoir with suggestions for Type 2 diabetics. She made these books to honor her mother and brothers who she’s lost over the years and also to share her experiences in the kitchen with those she loves.
“I didn’t used to measure a lot of stuff when I was cooking. But you see inside of it, it has all the Caribbean islands in there. That’s my idea of putting all the Caribbean foods together,” Herman said.
This story is part of Food Traditions, a multimedia project exploring food and culture across Wisconsin. It originally aired on June 24, 2020.