Today, August 9th ….
Izaak Walton, the most famous writer on fishing in the history of – well, fishing writing – was born on this day in 1593. It is not surprising that his book, The Compleat Angler, or the Contemplative Man’s Recreation, published in 1653, remained in print for the next two centuries. It is a charming book, and is fascinating even for non-fisherfolk; there are several versions available on the Internet (one via Gutenberg). It is said that it reflected Izaak’s pleasant temperament, and he suggests this himself in the preface.
‘And I wish the Reader also to take notice, that in writing of it, I have made a recreation, of a recreation; and that it might prove so to thee in the reading, and not to read dull, and tediously, I have in severall places mixt some innocent Mirth; of which, if thou be a severe, sowr complexioned man, then I here disallow thee to be a competent Judg. For Divines say, there are offences given; and offences taken, but not given. And I am the willinger to justifie this innocent Mirth, because the whole discourse is a kind of picture of my owne disposition, at least of my disposition in such daies and times as I allow my self, when honest Nat. and R. R. and I go a fishing together …’
The book is not a cookbook, but Izaak cannot resist giving some instructions on how to prepare some of the fish, including his favourite, the Pike.
‘These have not been tried by me, but told me by a friend of note, that pretended to do me a courtesy. But if this direction to catch a Pike thus do you no good, yet I am certain this direction how to roast him when he is caught is choicely good; for I have tried it, and it is somewhat the better for not being common. But with my direction you must take this caution, that your Pike must not be a small one, that is, it must be more than half a yard, and should be bigger.
“First, open your Pike at the gills, and if need be, cut also a little slit towards the belly. Out of these, take his guts; and keep his liver, which you are to shred very small, with thyme, sweet marjoram, and a little winter-savoury; to these put some pickled oysters, and some anchovies, two or three; both these last whole, for the anchovies will melt, and the oysters should not; to these, you must add also a pound of sweet butter, which you are to mix with the herbs that are shred, and let them all be well salted. If the Pike be more than a yard long, then you may put into these herbs more than a pound, or if he be less, then less butter will suffice: These, being thus mixt, with a blade or two of mace, must be put into the Pike's belly; and then his belly so sewed up as to keep all
the butter in his belly if it be possible; if not, then as much of it as you possibly can. But take not off the scales. Then you are to thrust the spit through his mouth, out at his tail. And then take four or five or six split sticks, or very thin laths, and a convenient quantity of tape or filleting; these laths are to be tied round about the Pike's body, from his head to his tail, and the tape tied somewhat thick, to prevent his breaking or falling off from the spit. Let him be roasted very leisurely; and often basted with claret wine, and anchovies, and butter, mixt together; and also with what moisture falls from him into the pan. When you have roasted him sufficiently, you are to hold under him, when you unwind or cut the tape that ties him, such a dish as you purpose to eat him out of; and let him fall into it with the sauce that is roasted in his belly; and by this means the Pike will be kept unbroken and complete. Then, to
the sauce which was within, and also that sauce in the pan, you are to add a fit quantity of the best butter, and to squeeze the juice of three or four oranges. Lastly, you may either put it into the Pike, with the oysters, two cloves of garlick, and take it whole out, when the Pike is cut off the spit; or, to give the sauce a haut goût, let the dish into which you let the Pike fall be rubbed with it: The using or not using of this
garlick is left to your discretion.”
This dish of meat is too good for any but anglers, or very honest men; and I trust you will prove both, and therefore I have trusted you with this secret.’
Tomorrow’s Story …
Coffee, if you can get it.
Quotation for the Day ….
It is agreed by most men, that the Eele is a most daintie fish; the Romans have esteemed her the Helena of their feasts, and some The Queen of pleasure. Izaak Walton.