| Sherman Thompson(1908-1996)|
Deer Harbor, WA., 1991.
Courtesy of Jan Koltun and the
Journal of the San Juans©.
Sadly, newsprint copy is the only available photo.
The glory produced by the intense competition for the best smoking method is far from ephemeral. The remembered taste of Cleon Meredith's smoked salmon makes Orcas mouths water 50 years after the fact.
"His was the best I ever tasted," says Thad McGlinn of Eastsound. Reverently.
Most salmon smokers are men, though occasionally a woman will crack the gender barrier by producing a superior brine or by volunteering to split the labor.
"I make the brine and Sherman gets the wood," says Lucille Thompson of Deer Harbor.
The basics, over which veteran salmon smokers endlessly debate, are brine, wood, and the type of smoker.
"Everybody has their little quirk about brine," Thompson observes.
To cover three small salmon or one big one, cut into chunks, she mixes a cup each of brown sugar and rock salt with a gallon of water.
"I only soak the fish 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Then I let it drain, and wipe some of the salt off before smoking it," she says.
For the best smoke, most islanders use alder. Sherman uses green alder, from which he peels the bark.
A foot downhill from his smokehouse, Thompson built into the ground a wood stove from which the smoke is piped into the little house, which is filled with trays.
Glenn Rickard of Lopez says the best temperature is 170 degrees. He smokes his fish 3-7 hours, until he likes its color. "You don't want it to get too dark, or to dry out."
Although McGlinn has used apple wood and cherry wood ("anything without pitch"), he, too, favors Cleon Meredith's habit of using dead alder.
"Meredith searched the woods for as punky old wood as he could find," McGlinn said.
"It takes about a day, 10-12 hours for the smoking. You keep tasting it until it's right," says Lucille Thompson.
New technology provides a smoke in 15 minutes. But some folks say waking up at night and checking on the fish adds to the fun as well as, certainly, the taste.
Many buffs swear by a cedar smokehouse such as the one Sherman Thompson built. It and similar structures are so often mistaken for outhouses some owners post a sign reading simply, "no, it isn't."
Above text by Jan Koltun, courtesy of the Journal of the San Juans©.
Published June 1991.
Another post of a San Juan County smokehouse can be viewed here.