Shell straight, open at both extremities. Two teeth in left valve, and one in the other; exterior covered with an olivaceous epidermis, concentrically striated. Breadth 1 inch, length from 7 to 8 inches.
* Mrs. Crowen's 'American Lady's Cookery Book'.
The razor or spout-fishes are all good for food, but Solen siliqua, which is the largest of our British species, is the one generally collected for that purpose. Solen ensis is eaten in the Feroe Isles, and is there called Langskoel; and Solen marginatus, commonly known as Vagina, is greatly prized as an article of food by the Neapolitans. This last-named species has a wide range abroad, but is not so common in this country as the two above-mentioned shells, though it is abundant in some localities, amongst others Rye, Tenby, and the Channel Islands. In the Isle of Man the razor-fish is called Eeast-gholvirragh.
Solen siliqua, or Razor shell.
The razor-shell is the aulo of the Romans; and Aristotle, in his 'History of Animals,' gives a description of it, stating that "it buries itself in the sand, can rise and sink in, but does not leave its hole, is soon alarmed by noise, and buries itself rapidly; and that the valves of the shell are connected together at both sides, and their surface smooth".*
However, according to Dr. J. G. Jeffreys, the power of locomotion of the Solen is not confined to burrowing; as they can dart from place to place in the water as quickly as the scallop, and apparently in the same way.
In the time of Athenaeus it was much eaten, and highly valued, if we may judge from the following quotations in his 'Deipnosophists:' -
" Araros says, in his 'Campylion,' -
" These now are most undoubted delicacies, Cockles and solens.
* Forbes and Hanley, ' Brit. Moll.' vol i. p. 240.
"And Sophron says, in his 'Mimi,' -
"A. What are these long cockles, O my friend, Which you do think so much of? B. Solens, to be sure;
This, too, is the sweet-flesh'd cockle, dainty food, The dish much loved by widows".*
Epicharmus, in his play of the 'Marriage of Hebe,' mentions the oblong solens.
Again, Athenaeus says, - "But the solens, as they are called by some, though some call them avλoi and ovaices, or pipes, and some, too, call them ŐVuxes, or claws, are very juicy, but the juice is bad, and they are very glutinous. And the male fish are striped, and not all of one colour, but the female fish is all of one colour, and much sweeter than the male; and they are eaten boiled and fried, but they are best of all when roasted on the coals till their shells open. And the people who collect this sort of oyster are called Solenistae, as Phaenias the Eresian relates in his book, which is entitled 'The Killing of Tyrants by way of Punishment:' where he speaks as follows: - 'Philoxenus, who was called the Solenist, became a tyrant from having been a demagogue. In the beginning he got his living by being a fisherman and a hunter after solens; and so, having made a little money, he advanced and got a good property.'"
On some parts of our shores great quantities of razor-shells are collected, sometimes by putting a little salt on the holes, which irritates the fish, and makes it rise to the surface; and again in the following manner, as described by Messrs. Forbes and Hanley : - "A long narrow wire, bent and sharpened at the end, is suddenly thrust into the hollows of the sands indicative of the presence of these animals, and, passing between the valves, the barbed portion fixes itself, on retraction, in the animal, and forces it to the surface".
* Athenaeus, vol. i. b. iii. p. 144, Bohn's Classical Library.
Poli gives an account of Solen-fishing at Naples. He tells us that the lurking-place of the Solen is betrayed by a hole in the sand, agreeing in shape with the apertures of its tubes or siphons. Where the water is shallow the fisherman sprinkles some oil on the surface, in order to see these marks more clearly. He then steadies himself by leaning on a staff with his left hand, and feels for the Solen with his naked right foot. This he catches, and holds between his great toe and the next; but although his toes are protected by linen bands, the struggles of the Solen to escape are so violent, and the edges of the shell so sharp, that often a severe wound is inflicted by it. Where the sea is five or six feet deep, the fisherman dives or swims under water with his eyes open, and after finding the holes, digs with his hands for the razor-fish.* At Tenby baskets-full are often brought to the door, and they are considered very good to eat. In Japan they are said to be so highly prized that, by the express order of the prince of that country " it is forbid to fish them until a sufficient quantity hath been provided for the Emperor's table".†
In the Bay of Concepcion are several species of shell-fish highly esteemed, and Ulloa especially mentions some Venuses and a number of razor-shells. The Chinese eat the razor-fishes, and they may be seen in the market at Tché-fou. The small kinds they call Tchin-ga, and the larger species Chu-en-na*
* 'British Conchology,' vol. iii. p. 13.
† 'Glimpses of Ocean Life,' by John Harper, F.R.S.
At Naples it is considered quite a recherché morsel, too expensive for the common people, a dishful selling at six carlines, which is equal to two shillings of our English money.
The German name for this shell is Scheidenmuschel or Messerschalenmuschel, and the French call it Manche de couteau and coutoye. In Spain it has several names by which it is known, viz., Muergos, Muerganos, Mor-gueras, Maneg de ganivet, Longeirones, Caravelas, and at Mahon, Manecs de quinivet.† The Sicilian names for it are Cannulicchiu stortu and Conca niura, and in the Adriatic Solen siliqua is called Capa tabac-china.
Razor-fishes may be cooked in the following manner: -