Friday, April 01, 2011

Fool’s Food.

Today is April Fool’s Day. I just know I am going to get an email from someone (who assumes that this is my April Fool joke – or that I am just stupid) pointing out that ‘today’ is still Thursday. Believe me when I tell you that here in Australia it is already Friday.

The origins of April Fool’s Day traditions are lost in the mists of antiquity, and as such are subject to much conjecture and fanciful embroidery. There is much about the day that suggests a spring festival of renewal – it is a day of organised havoc, with rules. Beware that you don’t continue your pranks beyond midday or …. I am not sure what will happen, but you just don’t do it, it is the rule. Perhaps the April Fool Gods will turn your nose into a stick of rhubarb, or you will be doomed until the next Fool’s Day to wear your underpants on the outside of your trousers, or you will be forced to eat only low-fat, low-carb, high fibre chocolate until Christmas.

The day is strongly associated with fish, for some (to me) very obscure reason. This is relevant to us today because this is a food blog after all. The fish symbolism is particularly strong in France (some experts do blame the French for originating the tradition) where the day is called Poisson d’Avril, or April Fish Day. They even have a fish called the April Fish, as is explained in Kettner’s Book of the Table, (London, 1877)

MACKEREL: A great authority, Grimod de la Reynière, says : “The mackerel has this is common with good women – he is loved by all the world. He is welcomed by rich and poor with the same eagerness. He is most commonly eaten à la maître d’hôtel. But he may be prepared in a hundred ways; and he is as exquisite plain as in the most elaborate dressing.” (au maigre comme au gras). This is immense praise, and is a complete justification of the common English method of serving him – plain boiled, with fennel or with gooseberry sauce. Nevertheless I give my vote to those who assert that there is but one perfect way of cooking a mackerel – to split him down the back, broil him, and serve him with maître d’hôtel butter. Still better, take his fillets and serve them in the same way.
The name of mackerel is supposed to be a corruption of nacarel, a possible diminution of nacre – from the blue and mother-o’-pearl tint of the skin. In one of the dialects of the south of France he is called pies d’Avril, the April fish – or as we should say, and April fool, both because he is a fool coming easily to the net, and because he first comes in April. He is not only quickly caught, but he spoils so quickly that the law accords him a peculiar privilege: he is the only fish that may be hawked about the streets on a Sunday. For the same reason he is the only fish besides the salmon that is much soused or marinaded in this country.

For those of you living in the other hemisphere, where April means Spring, not Autumn, and who can source a mackerel in season , I give you a simple version of the traditional gooseberry sauce to serve with him.

Gooseberry Sauce.
Put some scalded gooseberries, a little juice of sorrel, and a little ginger, into some melted butter.
The universal cook: and city and country housekeeper (1792), by By Francis Collingwood.

There is a slightly different version of the sauce (from 1709), intended to be served with goose here, and one for mock gooseberry sauce (made with rhubarb) here.

Previous April Fool’s Day stories are here, here, and here (my favourite, the amazing spaghetti trees of England.)

Recipes for Fools are here and here.

Fun Pudding is here.

Quotation for the Day.

Food is so fundamental, more so than sexuality, aggression, or learning, that it is astounding to realize the neglect of food and eating in depth psychology.
James Hillman.


Judy said...

". . .you will be forced to eat only low-fat, low-carb, high fibre chocolate until Christmas." You can put chocolate in the same phrase with low-fat,low-carb and high-fiber words?!

SharleneT said...

That chocolate scare got to me, too! Don't ever do that, again! I wish I could think of some tricks, but I'm pooped. But, the old guys are right, mackerel is very tasty, in so many ways. Thanks, again, for your in-depth research and sharing of recipes. Come visit when you can.

Anonymous said...

I have yet to try mackerel cooked, but I must admit I find its strong flavour as sushi less than appealing... Perhaps it is the freshness of the fish? After all, I live in a landlocked city...