Have you seen fish all over the place, even all over the roofs of houses? No? Well, I have and all the folks who lived in the 50’s are very familiar with what I am going to tell you now. Yes, it is different for when you get a nice snapper, mullet, shad, or barracuda, you prepare it and put it in the refrigerator to be preserved until the day you would need it for your dish.
Not so twenty five years ago, or better yet in the fifties, for there were no refrigerators. Fish was preserved by adding heavy quantities of salt. It was a process called “corning”. You corned fish with salt and it kept well for months, if you will. This is how the corning method works.
First you clean and open the fish. You make a few cuts or incisions on the flesh for the salt to penetrate well. After sprinkling a good dose of salt, you placed the fish in a container. The next day, you dip the fish in water to remove the excess salt. The flesh is all well salted by now. Then you placed the fish in an open position in the sun for the entire day. This would dry the fish at least 60 percent just by evaporation. If you so desired, you could put the fish out in the sun a second and final day and this would get it 90 percent dry. This very dry and salted fish could be stored for weeks, even months. When needed for the menu, you simply placed it in some water for more salt to be removed and for it to become moist once again. Then to the pot.
Now to the “fish all over the roof”. When you had a dozen or so of fishes, you simply placed them on a string in the open yard to dry. However, there were times when fishermen had hundreds of dozens of fish to dry out in the sun. They would be placed on special sticks in the yard. They would be placed all along the fence. Sheets of zinc roofing were placed on the ground and there the fish would be placed to dry. They would be hung even on the laundry lines. And when there was the need, the fishermen put the fish even on the roof-top of houses.
As you can imagine, there were flies all over the place. Flies simply pestered the entire surroundings as long as there was fish out in the open to dry. And they would lay their eggs in the flesh of the fish. If the fish was properly salted, the eggs would die. If not, the eggs would hatch and pretty soon you would see the worms (maggots) wriggling in the flesh of your corned fish. For this you had to remove them at the end of the day and add a little more salt to preserve it, or the fish would rot. Indeed, old San Pedro had 50 times more flies than today, for the mere fact that fish was put out in the sun to be preserved in the absence of refrigeration. Nobody cared about flies. They were as common as sand. It is only today that one fly in the home bothers the hell out of us. In yester years the smell of salted fish and the buzzing of flies was a common and pleasant experience.