by Sally Segall
Brining and smoking fish—especially those you caught yourself—seemed to fit in perfectly with the mood of the 1970s when the flower child movement had grown up a little from its early days of dope, long hair and squalor. As teachers at Syracuse University, my husband, Marshall, and I built a small cabin on Burridge Lake in Ontario. It had one large room, a loft, water piped in from the lake and a composting toilet. Electricity was our one luxury and it cost us several hundred dollars to run a pole to our property
The time we spent at our cabin (some weeks in the summer and periodic weekends in spring and fall) was filled with swimming and fishing, as well as exploring the countryside and the wildlife. Marsh had always wanted to fish but never before had the opportunity. Up at the lake he regularly pulled in small rock bass and pickerel— sometimes a smallmouth bass and, occasionally, a large pike. We grilled and ate these tasty morsels, sucking on the bones and throwing the heads and tails into the bushes for the raccoons and porcupines.
One Christmas, my sister and her husband gave us a Little Chief electric smoker and this changed our attitude toward fish. No longer was our relationship one dimensional; we could now enjoy the lake’s bounty smoked as well as fresh. Chipping wood from a fallen apple tree, Marsh would first brine the fish then place them on the smoking racks while we lounged on the deck surrounded by the sweet smoke of apple wood, anticipating the hour when gin and tonic and smoked fish would signal the end of the day. Sometimes this ritual would be accompanied by the rattatatat of the great Pileated Woodpecker or, later, the mournful ululations of the loons.
After ten years on Burridge Lake, we packed up our Little Chief, oak table, and pots and pans. We looked south for a new getaway. We had spent some happy weeks with friends on Martha’s Vineyard so when the real estate market suddenly dipped, we bought a new vacation home in West Tisbury.
In 2002, we sold our Syracuse house and retired to the Vine- yard. Our Little Chief smoker was permanently installed on the deck under the gas grill. Marsh was catching bluefish rather than lake fish, and they smoked into much better eating. Slightly oily with few side bones and easily removed backbone, they were a dream to smoke and they even froze well. Soon we were getting phone calls from friends asking to be placed on the fish list. Our friend, Richard, owns a fishing boat, and very quickly a symbiotic relationship developed between the Captain and the Smoker that continues today, well into our ninth summer on the Vineyard.