In Minnesota, fresh fish and Hamm’s Beer have been going hand in hand since 1865. 

Men and women equally enjoyed the sport of fishing in Minnesota in the 19th century.
Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society


Fish was wildly popular through-out Minnesota in its early years. Chefs and home cooks offered multiple fish dishes. In 1877 R.F. Jones owned a restaurant in Minneapolis and in June that year he offered a wide selection of fish that included halibut, mackerel, cod fish, brook trout, white fish, lake trout, bass, pike, pickerel and ciscoes. 

The Saint Paul Globe shared a humorous fish tale about an unknown patron who visited Ryan’s café in May 1887. The small, thin man was an Ashland boom towner, and had a disappointed look on his face as he wandered into the café. He tossed his slouch hat on the floor under his table and sat down to look over the bill of fare. The waiter came over to take his order and he requested fried codfish, white fish, Lake Superior trout, mackerel, dried herring, boiled pike, crappies, a pickerel, shad, lobster, swordfish and halibut. When he was done ordering he tossed down the menu. The waiter then asked, “No potatoes or vegetable on the side?” The customer replied that he only wanted fish and stated, “No, nothing but fish. I want all the fish you’ve got in the shebang. I read the other day that fish was first-class brain food, and if there’s any way of packing brains inside my skull I want to find out. I got mixed up in that Ashland boom and I propose to eat fish three times a day now till I get brains enough inside my head to steer me clear of another such calamity. If you’ve got a large whale, just bring it to me now.”

In May 1884 R. F. Jones was still in the business and advertised that this was the season for fresh fish, and Lake Superior’s trout and white fish were the best.  He also noted, “Salmon is the best, shad, mackerel, halibut, brook trout, bass, walleyes, pike and all our common fish are in the best condition; you can get all the above-named varieties. The season has been very backward and we have been compelled to buy frozen fish; but now new caught fish are plenty and the cheapest article of diet.”


In the 19th century, sport fishing was popular across Minnesota, as was commercial fishing on the state’s lakes, large rivers and Lake Superior. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society


Menu suggestions and recipes were regular features in local newspapers, and, not surprisingly, the Minnesota papers contained fish suggestions. Recipes included fish salad, cream fish soup and baked pickerel.  One story included fish dishes for the Lenten season, which suggested cold-boiled fish, baked filets of pike, fish and cucumber salad, halibut and sardine salad, and fish pie. 

Another popular Minnesota product was and still is Hamm’s Beer. It was created by German immigrant, Theodore Hamm. When he arrived in St. Paul, he had a dream of making a quality beer and he did just that in 1865. In 1906 his company advertised, “The beer you like at once. Hamm’s beer has no peculiarities, no strange flavors. It is just good wholesome beer that comes from the best materials, careful brewing, and thorough aging. Preferred Stock is an extra pale table beer of rare quality. New Brew is the most popular beer sold in the Northwest.”  Of course, fishing and beer go hand in hand, and many a fish tale was told around the lake, at a fish fry or over a hole in the ice.


Fish Pie

2 c. cooked fish, flaked

½ c. bread crumbs

1 c. half and half

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tbsp. butter

Bread crumbs and butter to top 

Place ½ cup bread crumbs in the bottom of a lightly buttered oven-proof dish. Add the half and half, salt and pepper, butter and fish. Top with some additional bread crumbs and butter and bake at 375° for about 15 minutes or until no longer runny.

Recipe adapted from The Minneapolis Journal, January 6, 1895.

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