If you knew them you would have expected nothing less. The icehouse built by my dad and brother was a feat of German engineering; innovative, efficient, and hand-crafted of high quality materials. Arguably the finest wooden icehouse ever built in 1970s.
When water was too soft to drill, our Mille Lacs Lake ice fishing house sat behind the old machine shed on the farm; near the burn barrel and the seasoned oak stump used as a butchering block for spring chickens.
The icehouse took Summer sun on a little patch of land to the right of the barnyard. Beside stood the wooden post and rail fence built with similar constitution to corral the black angus. Occasionally a skunk or woodchuck would take up residence beneath one of the four trap doors. The scenario was always met by my father with a stringer full of cuss words spit through gritting clenched teeth followed by a quick trip to the gun cabinet for the 1959 Belgian Browning .22-SA LR.
Winters on Mille Lacs were grand on the top bunk of our homemade icehouse. The dim light smelled like Coleman lantern fuel, and the warming stove wafted with the fragrance of wood chopped a season earlier. From my perch above, I would peer over the head-end of the bunk looking straight down into my ice hole; the bobber rising and falling with the undulation of the water. The reel and it's tiny Swiss bell hung on the wall.
Occasionally, I would jump down and skim what started to glaze and stick to my line. The slushy “icelets” formed as chips and shards like those in a perfectly shaken martini.
The utter silence of a below-zero night was occasionally interrupted by cracking ice; hypnotic, whale-like moans rumbling eerily beneath us as the sound torpedoed through water. Our pile of frozen fish boards right outside the door was always plentiful; pike, walleye, perch, sauger. And so was the pour of blackberry brandy, games of cribbage, and tales of the one that got away.
Since we are entering hard warter season here in the North, here’s a dish for fish dumplings in belly warming broth. Perfect for the dinner table or sipping from a Thermos or YETI on hard water. Irma Rombauer, author of Joy of Cooking, says this: “Once encountered never forgotten is the texture of a well-made “quenelle” (fish dumpling).”
1 lb. pike, or other firm white fish, deboned
2 slices soft white potato bread (Cottage Bread works great!)
¾ C whole milk or half-and-half
Dill, or fresh fennel fronds
½ T minced shallot
Salt & pepper
2 quarts homemade stock of any kind.
1. Place fish into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until fish is a the consistency of a fine grind.
2. Remove crust from bread and place in small bowl. Add egg, shallots, and dill or fennel fronds.
3. With the back of a fork blend milk slowly into the mixture. Depending on the bread, you may not need all the milk. We are looking for wet and mushy, but not too thin.
4. Add the processed pike, and some salt and pepper. Once stirred in the consistency is like moist mashed potatoes. Add a bit more milk if needed..
5. Chill for 30-60 minutes.
6. Remove from the refrigerator and form quenelles using two spoons. This is an easy technique of alternately scooping towards you from one spoon to another with a controlled ‘flick’ to form little football shaped dumplings.
7. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and drop in the quenelles. At first they will sink to the bottom, and then will rise to float when done.
8. Remove with a slotted spoon and place into bowls of hot broth.
9. Serve with crusty bread, or crostini for sopping.