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The Steilacoom Salmon Bake: Family Fun and Recipes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Salmon is a Pacific Northwest specialty.

Salmon is a Pacific Northwest specialty.

A Journey Back to Long Ago

The distance from Seattle, Washington, to the town of Steilacoom (pronounced STILL-ah-come), is about 45 miles . . . and 80 years.

That’s not to say that Steilacoom is a backwards, unenlightened town. Once a bustling frontier port, Steilacoom is the State of Washington’s oldest incorporated town (its 160th birthday was celebrated in 2014).

However, in Steilacoom, you will not find a Wal-Mart or Walgreens. There is a small library but no gas station. It has a town hall but no traffic light. There there are two parks (one with a bandstand) but no bank. The town lacks a hotel or even a grocery store, but you will find a small restaurant, a coffee shop, and two pubs. A candy-cane pole in front of the two-chair barbershop beckons to those in need of a shave and a haircut.

I drove around the corner through a tunnel of trees and saw amazing blue water and every inch of the Olympic Mountains.

— Robyn Shalikashvili (widow of Gen. John Shalikashvili, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff 1973-77)

At each turn in this tiny hamlet of 6,000 people, Robyn Shalikashvili (quoted above) found another engaging vista. The town's appeal inspired her to move here in 1998.

However, this sleepy little town wasn't always so serene. An old newspaper clipping warned of “wild and woolly” Steilacoom. It is said that saloons outnumbered everything else. Today, the only nightcrawlers are sold as bait near the ferry landing, and the speed limit never tops 30 miles per hour.

Some Bits of History Still Survive Today

A historic building (Bair Drug and Hardware), once home to an apothecary and the post office, serves breakfast, lunch, and the world's best malts from a century-old marble-topped soda fountain.

Don’t worry—you don’t need a time machine to visit this historic town. Getting here is easy. Leaving? Well, that’s another story.

Let Me Tell You About the Salmon Bake

First, a bit of history...

In 1970, a committee of municipal leaders and second-generation pioneers formed the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association (SHMA); their goal—the preservation and conservation of artifacts for Steilacoom, the oldest incorporated town in the State of Washington. The following summer they hosted the first-ever Steilacoom Salmon Bake at Saltar’s Point.

Let’s think about this for a moment—if you have ever planned a family reunion or helped coordinate a neighborhood picnic, you might appreciate what a massive undertaking this was—preparing a salmon bake, not just for the neighbors, not for a city block, but literally extending a town-wide invitation. However, anyone who has lived in this special place recognizes the sense of civic pride, community spirit, and enduring fellowship that exists within the borders of this 2.1-square-mile town.

I wonder. Did the members of the SHMA who made the plans, extended the invitations, and prepared the food ever envision that in 2022—51 years later—the event would still be going strong?

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It's Now an Annual Event

I haven’t found a record of that first salmon bake (quarterly newsletters were not published until 1972), but I do know that the cost was $2.50 for adults, $1.25 for children, or $6.00 for a family. The menu consisted of open-pit baked salmon, steamer clams, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, French bread, clam nectar, homemade pie, coffee, and Kool-Aid. In the third year, the event location was moved to Sunnyside Beach, and it has remained there ever since.

And, in the past 51 years, not much has changed—the menu is still a Puget Sound feast of local ingredients—grilled salmon, corn on the cob, salad, and (of course) homemade pie.

How to Grill Salmon Filets

If you don't have a grill, or the weather is frightful, you can pan-cook the fish:

Your cooked salmon isn't complete until it gets a swish of homemade huckleberry (or blueberry) sauce:

Carb Diva's Huckleberry Barbecue Sauce

This is a sweet, tangy (not spicy) barbecue sauce. Because of the high sugar content, I do not brush it on until the fish is just a minute away from being done. Or, you can brush or drizzle it on when the salmon is completely cooked.


  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups huckleberries (can substitute blueberries)


  1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan.
  2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Cook until berries burst and mixture begins to thicken, 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Sauce will thicken more as it cools.

How to Cook Corn on the Cob (3 Ways)

Boiling Technique

  • Don't remove husks and silks until ready to cook.
  • Use a pot large enough to completely submerge the corn. Fill the pot with cold (unsalted) water, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  • Add husked corn and cover with a lid. As soon as the water returns to a boil (3 to 4 minutes), the corn is done. Remove immediately and enjoy.

Grilling Technique

  • Remove husks and silks.
  • Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to completely enclose the corn. Spread softened butter on one side of the foil. Center an ear of corn on the buttered side.
  • Wrap up the corn; place on the grill for 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally.

Roasting Technique

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Place ears of corn directly on the oven rack. Don't husk; don't remove silks.
  • Roast for 25 minutes; remove from oven. Remove the husks and silks.
Three Bean Salad

Three Bean Salad

Three Bean Salad

I have seen many versions of this salad; this one is from my mother in-law's recipe box.


  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 can (16 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (16 ounces) yellow wax beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can cut green beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 red pepper, seeds removed and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion


  1. In small bowl whisk together vinegar and mustard until well blended. Beat in oil.
  2. Place remaining ingredients in large bowl. Pour dressing over; gently toss to coat. Cover and chill 1 hour.

Homemade Pies

Without a doubt, the most important part of a really good homemade pie is the crust. I am providing two recipes here—the traditional pastry recipe made with flour and shortening, and a somewhat more forgiving version with flour, butter, and sour cream. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Don't overwork the dough. Unlike bread dough which requires LOTS of kneading to create a study loaf, pie pastry is delicate. Handle it gently and as little as possible.
  • The liquid that you add must be cold.
  • Roll your dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Too many pies that I have seen at the Washington State Fair lost points because the crust was much too thick.

This is the standard pie crust recipe—the one your grandmother used years ago.

Basic Pie Pastry


  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 6 to 7 tablespoons cold water


  1. Mix the flour and salt together in a bowl; add the shortening and work into the flour with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle on the water, a tablespoon at a time, stirring lightly with a fork after each addition.
  2. Proceed with steps 5 through 9 of the sour cream pastry recipe above.

Sour Cream Crust

Butter and sour cream make this crust very rich and flaky; I find this recipe a bit easier to work with than traditional pie crust recipes that use only shortening or lard.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk


  1. Place flour, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Cut in butter using on/off pulses. The mixture will resemble coarse crumbs.
  2. Add sour cream and pulse until blended.
  3. Add milk and process until dough forms. Gather dough into a ball. Cut the ball of dough in half.
  4. Place a sheet of waxed paper on the work surface and flour lightly. Place one piece of dough in the center of floured waxed paper, turn over to coat both sides with flour. Place the second sheet of waxed paper over the top of the dough. (You now have a "sandwich" of waxed paper, floured dough, and waxed paper).
  5. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into an 11-inch circle.
  6. Remove top layer of waxed paper and then gently drape back on the dough. You are doing this to release the dough so that it no longer adheres to the waxed paper. Quickly flip the dough/waxed paper sandwich over and remove the other sheet of waxed paper.
  7. Gently ease the dough into 9-inch pie plate, being careful to not stretch the dough.
  8. Fill the pie with the apple filling (recipe below).
  9. Roll out the second piece of dough using waxed paper as described above.
  10. Carefully place the rolled dough circle over the apple filling. Crimp the edges as desired. Cut several slits in top crust to allow steam to vent.
  11. Bake pie for 60 minutes or until crust is golden and juices are bubbling.
apple pie ready to bake in the oven

apple pie ready to bake in the oven

Next is the filling:

Carb Diva's Apple Pie


  • Pastry for 2 crust pie (see above)
  • 4 1/2 cups granny smith apples - peeled cored and sliced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, sugars, salt, and cinammon. Let stand for 30 minutes.
  3. Strain apples, reserving liquid. Toss apples with cornstarch before transferring to pie crust in pie pan.
  4. Bring reserved juices to a boil in a medium saucepan; stir until mixture reduces to a syrup.
  5. Add butter to syrup and stir until melted.
  6. Pour mixture over apple slices in pie crust.
  7. Cover with pastry and bake for about 60 minutes.
freshly baked apple pie

freshly baked apple pie

In 2004 Patty Ann Forsyth, resident of our town, provided this recipe for the "Steilacoom Dinery" community cookbook—a compilation of recipes from all members of the Steilacoom Historical Museum Association:

Blackberry Pie


  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
  • 4 cups fresh blackberries
  • pastry for 2-crust (9-inch) pie


Mix sugar, lemon juice, and tapioca and pour over berries. Mix. Let stand at least 5 minutes. Turn into pastry shell. Adjust top crust; flute edges. Cut vents for steam to escape. Bake in preheated 425 degrees F. oven for 45 minutes or until crust is nicely browned and juices bubble from vents.

© 2016 Linda Lum

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