Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fourth of July Peas and Salmon

In New England it has always been common to eat peas and salmon for the 4th of July, harkening back to a time when people ate seasonally. This is the time of the year when the last of the spring peas are harvested, before the summer heat sets in. The salmon are running upstream, too, at this time. My mother remembers having traditional peas and salmon during the Great Depression and World War II, even though both were canned! It was as traditional as turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Last year, at the "Past is Present" website sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, this post explored the myth of Abigail Adams serving Salmon and Peas on the first July 4th, 1776 at their home in Massachusetts. The myth was debunked (John Adams was busy at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on that day, not having dinner with Abigail!) but it does confirm that peas and salmon was a popular early summer dinner in New England.

Some people eat their peas and salmon creamed or with egg sauce. Others have the peas steamed and grill their salmon. In Maine there is a comfort food known as “salmon pea wiggle” made of canned salmon, sauce and potatoes. Often the peas and sauce are flavored with dill, which is thriving this time of the year, too. Of course, recently, many people identify any summer holiday with burgers on the grill, as ubiquitous as fireworks, and have never had Independence Day peas and salmon.

There are creative ways to serve peas and salmon. Since modern New Englanders might insist on falling back to "something on the grill", the salmon has become a side dish. I’ve seen pasta salads mixed with peas and salmon (good for a potluck type 4th of July cookout). I’ve seen salmon dips with a pea garnish at holiday barbeques (for those who shudder at the idea of salmon instead of burgers and hot dogs). A few years ago we stuck with tradition and tried a Julia Child recipe with a real salmon poacher one Independence Day, with a fancy hollandaise instead of the traditional egg sauce. A whole salmon.  Cooked outside on the grill, of course, because it is now considered "de rigueur" for the 4th of July.

I’m sure that now our salmon comes from Alaska instead of local waters, and the peas are often frozen instead of fresh. But we still enjoy them with a few new potatoes on the side. And egg sauce. And dill. Yummmmm!

Maine Salmon Pea Wiggle
1 (10 oz.) pkg. frozen baby green peas, cooked by pkg. directions
1 (16 oz.) can pink salmon
2 c. white sauce (any recipe will do)
4-6 boiled eggs, chopped

Mix peas, salmon, chopped eggs and sauce. Heat 3-5 minutes or until heated through. Serve over new potatoes, mashed potatoes, crackers, toast, or puff pastry shells.

Don’t forget to garnish with some dill!

For another salmon story from the Revolutionary War, click here: 


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Fourth of July Peas and Salmon", Nutfield Genealogy, posted July 1, 2010, ( accessed [access date]).


  1. Heather,
    Love posts on regional traditions. This was a great post. thanks

  2. Love that salmon! I like the myth of salmon and peas served by Abigail Adams (wish it was true). I'll take my salmon fresh...I've never had canned salmon. I keep a close eye when purchasing fresh fish because a lot of it is foreign produced. I like mine from the states.

  3. I live in Seattle where we have salmon, peas and new potatoes. I wonder why we don't have this 4th of July tradition here?

  4. Ayuh...gotta have salmon and peas for the foth!!

  5. I remember my grandmother talking about peas and salmon for the 4th of July, but I don't recall actually having this dish as a child. For that I'm eternally grateful. I have never been able to acquire a taste for salmon. I have tried quite a few times, over the years, with no success. I find the flavor so strong that I can still taste it the next day. I'll leave the tradition to hardier New Englanders.

  6. I grew up on tuna wiggle, with canned tuna and peas in a white sauce over toast. It wasn't until the last time or 2 that I've had it with salmon.

  7. My grandfather planted his Maine garden day after Memorial Day, so the peas for the fourth were usually from the first harvest of the summer. 1946 on ..... We still had the change of snow in May. Gardens in New England were planted Memorial Day week and by Labor Day they were closing down.( It wasn't unusual to have snow in September). Fall brought beautiful apples,pumpkins and lots of potatoes it the year was good.

  8. Heather, this post touched my heart! My father, born and bred in Maine, always reminisced about having "salmon and peas" on the 4th of July. I figured it was a local thing where he grew up in the Auburn-Durham-Gardner areas within his own family, but I now treasure this extra information about how it was a true New England tradition. (Mom was terrified of eating fish and choking on a bone, so we always had the usual cookout as a kid.)Thank you!