Senator Samuel Casey and his Catfish

Illinois Senator Samuel Casey is my husband’s 1st cousin 5x removed … and he liked catfish. 

Senator Samuel Casey

Samuel King Casey was born on June 27, 1817 in Smith County (now White County), Tennessee to Zadok Casey and Rachel King. Later that same year, the Casey family moved to what is now Jefferson County in Illinois, becoming early settlers and ultimate founders of Mt. Vernon.

In 2004 a newspaper article written by local history lover and writer Ben Gelman, the traveling family was described as arriving here, “the wife riding on the only horse he was able to possess, and carrying the child and all of their earthly goods, peculiarly the skillet, strapped to the saddle, and in front of this caravan walked the young husband and father with his rifle upon is shoulder.”   

Samuel’s father, Zadok went on to become quite the historic figure, being elected to the Illinois Senate in 1826 then chosen as lieutenant-governor in 1830. Samuel, and his brother Thomas (1831-1891), followed in their father’s footsteps and were both elected to the Illinois Senate in 1868 and 1870 respectively.

We descend from Zadok’s brother, Abraham. 

Mrs. Owen’s Illinois Cookbook

One of my passions, as you may guess from my blog, is collecting old … heritage? … cookbooks. I love reading them and remaking recipes from them. Old cookbooks give us a peek into our heritage like no other document can. They let us imagine what daily life was like in the kitchens of our ancestors.

Mrs. Owen's Illinois Cookbook Senator Samuel Casey

I recently purchased a digital copy of Mrs. Owen’s Illinois Cookbook from Amazon. It is a part of the American Antiquarian Cookbook Collection, a fabulous collection of digitized heritage cookbooks. For me, this was a way to learn more about my home state, and possibly my “neck of the woods”.  What I never expected was to find recipes that reference an ancestor.

Mary Eliza Hurst Owen was the wife of Springfield, Illinois doctor Thomas Jefferson Vance Owen, Jr. Mrs. Owens wrote her Illinois Cookbook, published in 1871, as a guide for young homemakers of moderate means, having herself once felt the need for such a companion for the home. Recipes were collected from the “ladies of Springfield” and were well tried and tested in their own homes.  Many of the recipes are all too familiar, like “plain fried potatoes” and “succotash”; recipes that have been served in my own family for generations.  

Imagine my surprise, however, when I came across a recipe titled “Fried Cod Fish, Senator Samuel Casey’s Receipt” … and another called “Boiled Fish, Senator Samuel Casey’s Way”. I was nearly giddy. Yes … giddy. Just ask the hubs. 

The Catfish

I love catfish. I was raised on it … fried mostly … but we ate a lot of catfish. Living close to the Big Muddy River, they were easy to come by and plentiful. It was no surprise that Senator Samuel Casey had a taste for the muddy creatures.

The recipe for Fried Cod Fish reads as follows:

“Take one pound of cod fish, four large potatoes, four eggs, one teaspoonful salt, and one of black pepper; cook fish and potatoes at the same time, (but in different vessels,) take the bones out of the fish, peel the potatoes, hot right out of the water, mash them and the fish well together, with a tablespoonful of flour; have the eggs well beaten, and add them to the mixture with a piece of butter as large as a walnut; mix all well together, and fry in cakes, in hot lard; send to the table hot. This mixture will be soft and must be dropped into the lard with a spoon, as it cannot be made out into balls. It is the nicest way I have ever prepared codfish for a breakfast dish. The water on the fish must be changed while it is boiling; once changing will perhaps be sufficient.” 

I’ve made a lot of fish fritters in my life, and this sounds like one … I’ve never used potatoes, however. This might be a nice change of pace … and texture. 

Mrs. Owen's Illinois Cookbook Senator Samuel Casey

Recipes as printed in Mrs. Owen’s Illinois Cook Book, 1871

Senator Casey’s love of catfish – and Mrs. Owen’s cookbook – let me see a tiny glimpse of the life of an ancestor in a way that history rarely does, especially for the non celebrities among our kinfolk. Samuel Casey died the year this cook book was published, 1871, in Mt. Vernon, Illinois and is buried in West Salem Cemetery. His life was certainly one of trials growing up in a family of early settlers, and one of triumph as he helped the community which his father founded grow and prosper. 

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