Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A right royal fish.


Today, April 26th …

Sometimes, the Good Old Days really were good. In the seventeenth century, Samuel Pepys regularly ate sturgeon, as on this day in 1662:

At Southampton we went to the Mayor's and there dined, and had sturgeon of their own catching the last week, which do not happen in twenty years, and it was well ordered. They brought us also some caveare, which I attempted to order, but all to no purpose, for they had neither given it salt enough, nor are the seedes of the roe broke, but are all in berryes.

Sturgeon were, like dolphin, porpoise and whale, “royal fish’ (Yes, I know, these are not fish, but they were considered so in Sam’s time), that is, they belonged to the king, or at least the local lord of the manor, and any found in the Thames above London Bridge belonged to the Lord Mayor. In other words, they were not for the riff-raff.

Usually Sam referred to sturgeon from a barrel – that is, salted or souced – not freshly caught. It had once been very plentiful in the Thames, but judging by Sam’s comments this source was already in decline by the mid-seventeenth century. Nevertheless, he was able to eat it very regularly, and recipes for it were very plentiful.

Sam was a bibliophile as well as a diarist, and one of the fifteenth century manuscripts in his library contained a recipe for sturgeon which was very simple:

Take and lay hym in Water over nyght seth hym and let hym kele and lay hym in vyneAger or yn Aysell* that sauce is kyndely ther to serue hit furth.

Robert May’s book “The accomplisht cook … ” (1660) had 32 recipes for sturgeon, including variations, – a lot, compared to say, Nigella and Jamie, and an indication of its popularity at the time.

To roast Sturgeon.
Take a rand** of fresh sturgeon, wipe it very dry, and cut it in pieces as big as a goose egg, season them with nutmeg, pepper, and salt, and stick each piece with two or three cloves, draw them with rosemary, and spit them thorow the skin, and put some bay leaves or sage leaves between every piece, baste them with butter, and being roasted, serve them on the gravy that droppeth from them, beaten butter, juyce of orange or vinegar, and grated nutmet; serve also with it venison sauce in saucers.

* aysell is cider vinegar
** a rand is a strip or a long slice of meat or fish, particularly sturgeon

Tomorrow: Chicory and Flummery.

Quotation for the Day ...

The fact is I simply adore fish,
But I don't know a perch from a pike;
And I can't tell a cray from a crawfish
They look and they taste so alike.
William Cole: And Be Merry

4 comments:

mmw said...

Samuel Pepys has a blog.

The Old Foodie said...

Hello mmw. I love Sam Pepys. The blog you have listed is great - because the comments often lead to good resources. There is another one at http://www.pepys.info/ which is (I believe) a complete rather than an edited version. It is good to have both. Wouldn't you love to have met him!

COQCO said...

And, I love Mr. Pepys as well! So glad you are writing about him!

The Old Foodie said...

Sam pops up fairly often so I'm glad you all approve!