THE FADED clapboard homes dotting the Atlantic coastline city of Eastport, Maine, seem to lean a little away from the steady driving wind gusting in off the ocean. Curling wisps of smoke rise from the chimneys, telling of the warmth inside.
It could be dawn or twilight when a herring boat is spotted, low in the water heavy from its catch, chugging along the choppy Bay of Fundy, heading for port.
On shore, the big rambling wooden cannery begins to stir with activity. A piercing whistle sounds several times, cutting through the cold gray sky announcing to the cannery workers the arrival of a herring boat.
A few minutes later, headlights of cars can be seen moving along the lonely roads, workers headed for the cannery to unload, snip off the heads and tails, then pack the shiny delicacies in brine.
It only takes a few hours of fast work, and they head home, a family again, the husband now driving, back from sea after a few days out fishing; his wife resting, with the baby in her arms. The men go to sea and fish, and most of the cannery workers are women.
On late fall or winter afternoons in the bigger brick homes, cocktails are served before blazing fireplaces while stories are told about the fisherfolk who go to sea or work the canneries.
"They make big money, $40,000 or $50,000 a year," a man says adding, "They go to Florida every winter." The fishermen and their families don't really know this life. Then comes the perennial tale about the lobster fisherman who heads out in his runabout each dawn to check the traps, who takes along a tuna fish sandwich for lunch and has two sons at MIT.
It's an area of stillness and marsh grass, with a constant cool wind even on a summer day. Meat can be purchased at a few local stores or after a long drive to a bigger city and a supermarket, but for the most part the people live off the sea.
While driving along a stretch of beach road, on a late summer evening cool enough for a bulky sweater, I stopped at a beat-up old restaurant that promised the best pie in America. There were a few tables and chairs and a short counter seating about five.
The menu was tacked on a wall, and one of the dishes was fish hash.
I ordered the hash and did have a thick slice of hot apple pie, and thought. The hash is the native dish for fishermen who, in tall stories, sometimes spurn lobster for tuna fish sandwiches.
Since that day a few years ago, I have tried to match the superb taste of that dish and have come as close as anyone could without actually stealing the recipe.
FISH HASH (6 servings) 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 4 or 5 potatoes, diced 1 large white onion, coarsely chopped 1 green pepper, chopped (optional) Salt and pepper, to taste 1 pound turbot (or any inexpensive firm white fish), cut into 1-inch cubes
Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan. Add potatoes and cook, turning frequently. The potatoes will spit and snap and even look like they might be burning, but even the few burnt parts taste good. Add chopped onions and optional green pepper. Season with salt and pepper turn the heat down and cover.
Get the cheapest cut of white fish fillet you can buy, cut it into 1-inch squares and add it about 5 minutes before the potatoes are done (to tell if they are done, pierce the potatoes with a fork; the outside will be soft and the inside is still a little hard). Mix all with a spatula, scraping the bottom to get that good well-done potato.
The hash should remain fairly moist when you serve it with your favorite vegetable. I like zucchini, sliced about 1/4-inch thick, saute'ed in chopped garlic and olive oil, sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs, salt, pepper and a bit of grated parmesan cheese.
This meal might taste better if you've been out on a herring boat for a few days, but it is a good quick winter supper.
For the apple pie and a slab of melted cheese dessert you will have to drive up to Eastport, Maine; otherwise, something local will have to do.