Friday, October 24, 2014

Corned Fish

"Corning" means to preserve in salt. On the Outer Banks before refrigeration, fish were often "corned" to preserve them.

Corned fish were packed in wooden barrels with tight fitting lids to keep varmints out. The barrels were stored in the shade, and the fish would keep for many months.

According to a 2009 article ( in

"The fish should be scaled, beheaded and gutted. No trace of entrails or the black membrane that lines the cavity of the fish should remain. Then the fish should be butterflied, so the maximum amount of flesh will be exposed to the salt.... Once the fish is prepped, sprinkle the bottom of the container with a 'heavy dusting' of salt. Lay the fish on the salt and give it a heavy dusting - it is not necessary to completely cover the fish with salt. Continue layering fish and salt. Seal the container and place it in the refrigerator [obviously, old-timers did not have this option, but corning still worked].

"After three or four days, the salt should have pulled the water from the fish to create a brine. Keep an eye on the water level, and when it stops rising, open the container and add enough fresh water to cover the fish completely and enough extra salt so that crystals are visible. You want to have the water dissolve as much salt as possible. The fish is safe to eat when it is "struck through," meaning that the salt has completely penetrated the flesh. To determine if the fish is struck through, press the flesh with your finger. 'It should be firm, hard, like a board,' Merritt [Jim Merritt, owner of The Catch Seafood at Five Points Community Farm Market in Norfolk] said. After that, it no longer requires refrigeration and is ready to eat...."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is about the Unionist North Carolina State Government established at Hatteras in 1861. You can read all about it here:  


  1. Anonymous7:41 AM

    Yum-O. Where did all the salt come from back then? Then, is the 19th century on OI? Hmm, when was OI electrified? Thanx.

    1. I don't know where the salt came from. Ocracoke got electricity in 1938. The generator/ice plant was located where Kitty Hawk Kites is today.

  2. Anonymous5:05 PM

    Might I go out on a limb and venture whether salt may have been derived from, ohh, I don't know...SEAWATER?!?


    Or perhaps not. Any historical insight into the likelihood of this Philip?

    Thanks (as always) and best wishes for a pleasant weekend.

  3. I just came home from a visit with cousin Blanche. She remembers her papa salting fish for the winter. She told me Mr. Mace kept barrels or tubs of salt for sale in the Community Store.

    I've never heard of (nor can even imagine) anyone on the island producing salt from seawater, but perhaps they did many years ago.

  4. Anonymous7:01 PM

    A quick Internet search reveals:

    "History of Salt Production in the United States

    Reports from Onondaga, New York in 1654 indicated the Onondaga Indians made salt by boiling brine from salt springs. Colonial Americans were making salt by boiling brine in iron kettles during the time the U.S. Constitution was drafted. By the time of the Civil War, 3,000 workers produced over 225,000 short tons of salt by boiling. Settlers reported that Native Americans made salt at Kanawha, West Virginia before 1755 by boiling brine from salt springs. Large scale salt production from brine springs was underway by 1800, and the process of drilling for more concentrated brine began within a few years. The Kanawha valley supplied the Confederacy with salt during the Civil War, when production peaked.

    Similar events occurred at Avery Island, Louisiana. Historians believe that Native Americans produced salt from salt springs more than 500 years before the arrival of Europeans. Salt produced by boiling brine supplied salt during the war of 1812. Full scale production in open pits or quarries began in 1862, during the Civil War, and the first underground salt mine was started in 1869 with the sinking of a shaft."

    This from Saltworks, which bills itself as America's Sea Salt Company (though I certainly can't vouch for that).

    Here's the link to the Web site: