Saturday, 4 April 2009

Wobbling about like wonky wheels

In this great Blogdom we inhabit, there seems to be something of a thirst for information. Every now and then a fellow correspondent will enquire, what piece(s) of information would you care to reveal about yourself to your expectant blogdience? These reasonable requests are generally known as 'memes', and I have no doubt that those of you who read this humble blog from time to time, ask such questions out of a genuine sense of interest and curiosity. It is nothing like the how are you? that we British use as an all-purpose greeting. In these circumstances, what we certainly do not want is for the recipient of the question to give a detailed bulletin of their state of health.

Anyway, the questions are asked, and away I go with my bits of info; just try and stop me from telling you that I'm an avid plane-spotter, or can't say the letter 'b', or that my life has been so much better since I discovered plain chocolate Hob-Nobs. Only one of these is true, incidentally. But these aside, I recently chose to reveal that the only thing in this world I will not eat is a toffee apple.

For some strange reason, I feel unjustifiably proud of myself for being able to state that the combination of sour apple and sweet toffee on a wooden stick is my sole culinary bete noir. Does it make me a better person than the next man (or woman) who turns their nose up at mashed potatoes, retches at the mere thought of Brussels sprouts, and has a blue fit when presented with a morsel of blue cheese at the conclusion of a meal? Or does it make me a worse person? Does my omnivorous nature somehow reveal in me a lack of discernment or discrimination? Why don't I shudder at the thought of snails in garlic butter, or a handful of spicy mealworms (dead, of course), or a platter of the assorted fried viscera of some farmyard friends? I'm not sure. But it can't be very chic, can it, to state to the world at large, 'I'll eat anything, me!' I don't think restaurant critic AA Gill has anything to worry about.

Number one daughter has seemingly inherited my omniphagic tendencies. Over the years she has consumed snails, frogs' legs, kangaroo, ostrich, alligator nuggets (the mind boggles), assorted bottom-feeders (gastropod and bivalve) and assorted fish (pelagic and demersal)...and tripe. But I have to report that she very nearly met her culinary match today in the form of a tub of jellied eels.

Jellied eels are a cockney delicacy, and have been around since the eighteenth century. Freshwater eels are chopped up (when I was a child, we would watch with horror as the fishmonger dissected live ones before our eyes), and then boiled in a spiced stock. The slimy nature of the eels means that fats from its body mingle with the stock to produce a savoury jelly. My grandfather, who was born in Lambeth where such things were popular, swore by them. Tubby Isaacs (we lead, others follow) was the most famous purveyor of them. And No.1 daughter was today the dubious recipient of a tub of them.

We both looked at the contents of the tub. Greyish-yellow jelly, coloured perhaps with nicotine, and dotted with large chunks of equally grey stewed eel, which looked for all the world like some exhibit in a coroner's cabinet of curiosities. Despite the fact this creature was purchased in East Sussex, not the East End, I formed the impression that it had somehow winked at us from the recesses of its tub in a cheeky, cockney barrow-boy sort of way. By now a cheese sandwich was looking infinitely more appealing. We tentatively tasted a portion. The eel meat had a kind of chewy texture, and a flavour reminiscent of pilchards fed entirely on a diet of mud. The jelly was rather like that to be found in a pork pie, but a little sloppier. By now, even toffee apples were looking appealing. We persevered with this dismembered mud-fish for a while, but I regret to say most of the poor creature died in vain, and is now languishing in a secure receptacle, awaiting collection by the Seaford and District Sanitation Collective.

So, is there a moral (not a moray - that's an altogether far more frightening species of eel) to this story? Could it be, 'never eat a creature whose name has more vowels than consonants?' Or 'if the food on your plate looks like it's already been eaten and/or recycled a couple of times, it probably has'? No; rather, 'try everything once, but (unless you are an eternal optimist) prepare for a bit of a disappointment'. Especially if your chosen delicacy has been spoon-fed on silt for most of its life. But I still won't eat toffee apples.


punk in writing said...

I won't eat eels, jellied or not. They're scavengers, and my gran has told me stories of the lovely, fat eels they caught during the war... when there were a few more corpses that normal floating about. Yuck!

chris hale said...

Hi Punky. What a chilling thought! I must check the ingredient list next time...if there is a next time!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

I'm glad we giraffes are vegetarian!

BTW have you ever had dandelion coffee, Chris?

PS Talking of memes, I've still to do your 'Choses Ordinaires!' - the pictures are in progress!

chris hale said...

Hi Raph.

No, I've never tried dandelion coffee. Send me a virtual cup and I'll take a sip.

Looking forward to the words and pictures re your choses ordinaires. Will chocolate get a mention, I wonder?

Comedy Goddess said...

I have an underwater paranoia which includes swimming in it, snorkling on top of it, and eating anything from the bottom of it. Ye Gods! I'm scared!

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Jellied Eels... I must confess that although I have eaten many things from nature's larder I would put them in the same category as rollmops... in short, I wouldn't touch them with yours.

However the story was great, so great that I am sorely tempted to link it. I'll see what i can find about them and if I can find a suitably horrific picture to embellish my link.

It'll be on


Argentum Vulgaris said...

I did...


chris hale said...

CG - I, like you, am not a keen swimmer. But at least there are no Great Whites in Sussex!

AV - Thanks for the link. I shall peruse your horrific pic later. And speaking of rollmops:

Derrick said...

Oh Chris! How could anyone not like jellied eels?!

As a small boy, at the seaside, I would see my father (a Northerner) eat these from the seafood stall and, occasionally, I would get a bite. Cockles, winkles, whelks - or cow heel and tripe - you name them, I love them! I have had eels in London too with mash and liquor.

We seem to have moved a long way from the days when it was necessary to use every part of an animal. Nothing could be wasted. I have seen local women in South Africa buying bags of chicken feet and wondered what on earth they do with them. But is that so different to a pig's foot (the purpose that is, not the actual foot!), of which I've eaten many? I'm sure many people are depriving themselves of a delicacy!

chris hale said...

Derrick - I used to love pie, mash and liquor, bought from Cook's in Shepherds Bush. Who knows, I may acquire the taste for jellied eels too.

We do waste an awful lot of an animal. Living in the country now I've noticed a far greater variety of (cheaper) cuts of meat than I could get in my London supermarket. And some of them are much tastier!

Madame DeFarge said...

I am saddened by the news that you don't eat toffee apples. But it leaves more for me.

I loathe fishy stuff, unless it's in batter and with chips. I had a profoundly awful experience with prawns that left me most womitous. Never again. Rollmops make me heave, just the smell is enough. But haggis, there's heaven in a sheep's stomach

chris hale said...

MDF - Boo toffee apples! Yay haggis!

I once ordered trout in a restaurant in Scotland and was surprised when it arrived encased in batter. But my highlight was one of your traditional high teas. I didn't know a table could support so much grub!

Rob Inukshuk said...

I thank you for your description of jellied eels. Now I know I was right to have stopped sampling East End cuisine when I got to mushy peas.

I used to be very adventurous where food was concerned, well actually with all sorts of things, but as I get older I'm becoming more discerning, even a bit fussy.

chris hale said...

Rob - There now, that's what worries me; I'm not very discriminating. Perhaps I should become faddy. Refusing to eat anything that casts a shadow, for example. Or only eating Marmite straight from the jar.

disa said...