It was the late 1890s before the packers paid serious attention to the production of frozen salmon. Just before the 1902 salmon season began on the Columbia, Samuel Elmore proposed that CRPA enter the frozen and mild-cured salmon business on a large scale. While they did have a small freezing unit and a cold-storage plant at the Elmore and Kinney facilities, Elmore made plans to build a much larger plant in the unused Hanthorn cannery at Astoria, so that all of the cold storage and freezing operations could be carried out in a single local plant.
Steelhead was prized in Europe, so Elmore initially focused on purchasing steelhead from other companies and had the Blue Mountain Ice Co. in Portland do the actual cold storage part of the operation. Once the steelhead arrived at the plant, they were washed and then frozen at about 25 degrees below zero. They were then removed from the freezer and glazed by dipping them in ice cold water, wrapped in a parchment-like paper and moved to cold rooms to await shipment. The fish were frozen in the round. When the whole salmon arrived at the markets in Germany, they were thawed and put on display in markets, where they looked as if they had just been caught. The European customers would clean them and serve them whole, usually stuffed and baked.
CRPA’s cold storage facility was instrumental in processing new company product lines, such as frozen crab, shrimp and bottomfish to replace mild-cured salmon. New product lines also provided new employment opportunities for women, who did much of the bottomfish filleting and crab shaking needed to prepare the seafood for market. The “Bumble Bee ladies,” as they were called, were renowned for their expertise producing top quality boneless fillets. The secret lay in having a razor sharp knife, and the company employed a man to do nothing all day but sharpen the filleters’ knives. Excerpted from Flight of the Bumble Bee, by Irene Martin and Roger Tetlow