Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Prodigious Pike.

May 21 ...

Our old friend the eighteenth century Parson James Woodforde received the ‘living’ of the parish of Weston Longeville in Norfolk in the 1770’s. And a good living it was too. Eating local was the norm in his day. The local community provided all the ingredients essential to good eating, and everything was made from scratch in the home kitchen. The parson bought such things as butcher’s meat but kept his own pigs, his tenant farmers seemed to be a productive lot, and fresh fish was not a problem. His diary entry on this day in 1778 is very revealing.

‘At Lenswade Bridge we caught a Prodigous fine Pike which weighed 8 Pound and a half and it had in his Belly another Pike, of above a Pound. We caught also there the finest Trout I ever saw which weighed 3 Pound and two ounces.’

How often these days are pike of over eight pounds caught in Norfolk? Or three pound trout? Someone in the know please let us know.

The pike is a long fish with a long pointed (pike-shaped) jaw and big teeth – all the better to eat other fish with. They are known to be a predatory species, and from the parson’s diary it seems they are also not above a bit of cannibalism. The human prejudice against eating meat-eating animals and birds does not seem to extend to fish-eating fish. Why is that, do you think?

The pike was a favourite fish from medieval times – big enough and meaty enough to cook with a big meaty stuffing in its belly, and big enough and fierce enough to look spectacular served in the traditional way – appearing to eat its own tail in the ultimate act of cannibalism.

Hannah Glasse, whose book The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy (1747) was very popular in the parson’s time, tells us how to cook and serve a prodigious fine specimen of a pike.

To dress a pike.
GUT it, cleanse it, and make it very clean, then turn it round with the tail in the mouth, lay it in a little dish, cut toasts three-corner-ways, fill the middle with them, flour it and stick pieces of butter all over; then throw a little more flour, and send it to the oven to bake: or it will do better in a tin-oven before the fire, then you can baste it as you will. When it is done lay it in your dish, and have ready melted butter, with an anchovy dissolved in it, and a few oysters or shrimps ; and if there is any liquor in the dish it was baked in, add it to the sauce, and put in just what you fancy. Pour your sauce into the dish. Garnish it with toast about the fish, and lemon about the dish. You should have a pudding in the belly, made thus: take grated bread, two hard eggs chopped fine, half a nutmeg grated, a little lemon peel cut fine, and either the roe or liver, or both, if any, chopped fine; and if you have none, get either a piece of the liver of a cod, or the roe of any fish, mix them all together with a raw egg and a good piece of butter. Roll it up and put it in the fish’s belly before you bake it.

Tomorrow’s Story …

Digestive Difficulties.

Quotation for the Day …

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.
Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.
Teach a man to create an artificial shortage of fish and he will eat steak.

Jay Leno.


Hunter Angler Gardener Cook said...

Dunno about Norfolk, but an 8-pound pike is nothing to write home about in North America. It's a decent fish, but I've caught them three times that size in Minnesota. They are a trick to fillet because they have an extra set of bones...

Rochelle R. said...

I never really thought about the prejudice against the meat eating birds and animals before. That is an interesting thing to ponder.