You know the old saying ‘if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn’t’? There is another situation, known to the researcher. It goes like this: if something sounds too fascinating and quirky and intriguing to be true: it may well be a spoof.
I recently read the following fascinating, quirky, and intriguing snippet in a journal from 1842:
“The London Electrical Society met … its other activities included eating electrical eel pies, and consuming Whitbread stout to 'trace the galvanic action produced by the contact of the pewter pot with the moisture of the under lip'.”
It was not until I noted – really noted – the name of the journal that the moment of suspicion and then the moment of disappointment kicked in. The snippet appeared in the notoriously tongue-in-cheek Punch, in an article purporting to be a report on the recent activities of a number of societies, all of which sounded equally spoofy.
I was about to reject the piece, as being an unworthy, albeit amusing, inclusion in this terribly serious food history blog. But then I thought – there is nothing wrong with the idea itself, even if the event didn’t actually happen. It sounds like the sort of idea that will appeal to those cutting-edge quirky modern chefs who like to incorporate many sensory experiences into their meals.
Some species of electrogenic fish are edible, apparently, in the sense that they are not actually poisonous. They are obviously not ‘electric’ when they are dead and cooked of course, but that should not stop a creative chef having fun with the idea.
I was, not surprisingly, unable to find a recipe for electric eel pies, but will stick broadly to the fishy theme with a gem from Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery (1784)
To make a salmon pie.
Make a good crust, cleanse a piece of salmon well, season it with salt, mace, and nutmeg, lay a little piece of butter at the bottom of the dish, and lay your salmon in. Melt butter according to your pie; take a lobster, boil it, pick out all the flesh, chop it small, bruise the body, mix it well with the butter, which must be very good; pour it over your salmon, put on the lid, and bake it well.
Quotation for the Day.
What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.
Lucretius (c. 99 B.C. 55 B.C.)