First Fry Your Witch
Once there was a chain of wet fish shops across Britain called Macfisheries, before supermarkets came along and ruined the pleasure of buying fresh food for all of us. They stocked live fish too, and my mother would often come home with eels wriggling in a shopping bag for my father’s supper. They published this book, which I found in a local junk-shop, and there’s a recipe for each day of the year in it, including the rather alarming ‘Haddock Surprise’ – the surprise part seems to involve aspic jelly and pastry, and ‘Fried Witch’.
The recipe for the latter is no help at all, as it says, ‘Take two witches and fry them.’ Now clearly they’re some kind of fish, but what? Similarly there’s mention of ‘Yarmacs’, ‘Smelts’, ‘Gurnet’, ‘Megrim’ and ‘Ling’ – what are these? Did we fish them all out or do they have different names now? What’s particularly amusing to the modern ear is that all of the dishes sound so unappealing; ‘Devilled Bloaters’, ‘Beer Boiled Halibut’, ‘Spatchcocked Eels’, ‘Duck Hash’, ‘Fish For Invalids’, ‘Cod Head Soup’, ‘Flemish Conger’ and ‘Haddock Jelly’. There are mysterious game varieties too – ‘Capercailzie’, ‘Hazels’ (which I think were a type of hen) and ‘Ptarmigan’.
There seems to be a peculiar obsession with the idea that fish goes well with bananas, as the fruit turn up fried and sliced all over hake and turbot. There’s also the odd-sounding ‘Haddock and Sausages’. But what amazes is the sheer range of fish available – hundreds of different varieties. How different from the miserable world that Tesco dumped us with. It’s alright for hateful old Lady Porter – she slipped off to live in Israel with her stolen loot, leaving behind her father’s ghastly legacy of bad food.
The book is hilarious, plainly written but very keen on things like serving fried fish on a folded white napkin. And there’s a great section on how to treat your servants. With care and kindness, apparently.There’s even a section on postal deliveries that takes you back to a time when there were eight posts a day. Sometimes living in the future doesn’t seem better at all.