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A Fourth of July Supper of Salmon and Peas

A Fourth of July Supper of Salmon and Peas

Salmon and Peas, a 4th of July tradition in Maine!

Meredith Goad | Portland Press Herald

Here’s a True Fish Story ; A Fourth of July Supper of Salmon and Peas is a Maine Tradition That Was Spawned a Century and a Half Ago.

For most people, a brilliant fireworks display is the must-have accompaniment to the Fourth of July.

For Brenda and Tanya Athanus, it’s a family dinner of salmon and peas.

Even after working a 14-hour day at the Green Spot, their specialty foods store near the Waterville town line in Oakland, the weary sisters still make time on the Fourth for the salmon-and-peas tradition they remember from their childhoods.

Tanya grills the salmon while her boyfriend shells the peas. Brenda makes the white sauce for the salmon, prepares the new potatoes, and rustles up some strawberry shortcake for dessert.

“To me, it’s no different than eating turkey on Thanksgiving,” Tanya Athanus said.

Salmon and peas on Independence Day is an old Maine tradition that hearkens back to the days when wild salmon were plentiful in the state’s rivers and peas were a tasty summer holdover of the traditional English diet. Old-time Mainers didn’t plan to celebrate the Fourth this way; wild-caught salmon and home-grown peas were simply the foods that were available at this time of year after a long, hard winter and cool spring.

“The time to plant peas is as soon as you can plant them in the spring, so the traditional crop was a crop that you planted early and started having sometime in July,” said Russell Libby, executive director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “Over time, it turned out that that coincided with two other things. One is the salmon migration, so salmon would be coming up Maine rivers to spawn, and after 150 years or so, it also coincided with the Fourth of July celebration.”

Food historian Sandra Oliver, however, is skeptical that the salmon-and-peas meal goes back much further than the mid-1800s.