Cooking Techniques · Recipe Collections · The Vintage Kitchen

Sue Makes Tuna Timbales

Timbales found their way onto many a Twenties dinner table. They were relatively easy to make. Better yet, they used canned or leftover cooked meats in an inviting way. Today Sue makes Tuna Timbales with Ruth, but you could also make this recipe with leftover chicken or salmon.

This is Lesson 34 of When Sue Began to Cook, a 1924 children’s story cookbook by Louise Bennett Weaver. If you’re just joining us, click the book title to see Lesson 1, where the story begins. Actually, the story begins several books before this one, in A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband (with Bettina’s Best Recipes.) That too is a storybook cookbook, and it tells the story of Bettina as a young bride and her friend Ruth who became Ruth Ann’s mother. The link will take you to the Internet Archive’s copy, where you can read or download it.

But back to Sue and Ruth Ann. Timbales sound difficult to make but they’re a simple concoction of baked bread crumbs, cooked or canned meat, seasonings, and a little egg and milk to hold it all together. And they are delicious. You may know of it from the 1960s onward as tuna patties or salmon patties. It’s basically the same recipe prepared in a different shape.

Sue’s Notes on Tuna Timbales

Take the tuna out of the can just as soon as you open it. Mother told us both to write it down again so we would never, ever forget.

We don’t have any timbale pans at our house, so Mother had us bake the timbales in muffin pans. When they were done, we let them stand for about five minutes. Then we carefully loosened the little timbales and helped them out onto a hot platter without breaking a single one.

While the timbales were baking, we each made a creamy sauce. Just like the creamy sauce for Cheesed Creamed Potatoes, only without the cheese. We used four tablespoons of butter, four tablespoons of flour, two cups of milk, one teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon paprika. [You may want to reduce the salt to 1/2 tsp. A full teaspoon of salt is a lot of salt for two cups of white sauce.] When this was all done, and was creamy and hot, we poured it over the timbales on the platter.

A little timbale reassurance

“Tuna Timbales may seem hard to make,” Mother said to us while we were stirring our Creamy Sauce. “But it’s a good recipe to know. Instead of tuna, you can use any kind of leftover cooked meat or chicken, or turkey, or salmon. And people will like it exactly as well as they did the first time it was served.”

The little timbales did look delicious. We had them for lunch, with little hot biscuits and jam and iced milk and some of Robin’s lettuce. And we ate out on our little porch table. (Meals always taste better out there.)

Ruth Ann is already planning lunches she and her mother will have next summer on their porch table, and she says she is going to have us over very often.

Tuna Timbales

from the book When Sue Began to Cook by Louise Bennett Weaver, 1924
Course: Luncheon, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Bettina, Ruth Ann, Sue, tuna, When Sue Began to Cook


  • 1 muffin pan or individual timbale pans if you have them


  • 1 ½ cups tuna canned, drained
  • 1 cup bread crumbs soft
  • 1 tbsp parsley cut up very fine
  • 1 tsp onion cut up very fine (minced)
  • 1 tsp salt or less
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp celery salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup milk


  • Place the drained tuna in a mixing bowl. Mother had us flake it — break it apart with a silver fork. Then add soft breadcrumbs, parsley, onion, salt, paprika, celery salt, lemon juice, beaten eggs, and milk. Stir it all together.
  • Butter the compartments of a muffin tin and fill them 2/3 full with the tuna mixture. Then place the muffin pan into a shallow larger pan, like a 9 x 13 pan. Fill the larger pan with hot water so that it comes up the sides of the muffin tin, about 1-inch deep. Then bake the timbales in a moderate oven (350℉) for 30 minutes.
  • When they're done, let stand for five minutes and then loosen them from the pan. Serve plain or with a cream sauce.