This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Cockles And Winkles, are popular shell-fish in the poorer parts of London, and other cities. As a street scene in a squalid South London district on a dismal winter's Saturday night, at the various itinerant stalls for cheap articles of food, we read how "a pale-faced young woman is poking a Cockle into her year-old baby's mouth with her forefinger, as she tells the merchant that the ' little un tykes to 'em as kindly as 'er dad does.' " On another stall hard by are tiny flat fish which suggest a minimum of nutriment, lying at a respectful distance from more or less fresh, and worn-looking haddocks, the vendor proclaiming the merits of his wares in no modest terms. (Venator, in The Complete Angler, has told of those that venture upon the sea, and are there shipwrecked, drowned, and left to feed haddocks.) "As we presently moralize on the pathetic scene, the devoted mother with the infant, who can scarcely have yet digested its Cockle, comes again in sight, stops at a small fruit stall, purchases a very green apple, and, biting off one half, begins to administer the other by easy instalments to the babe, perhaps as an antidote to the fish course.
No wonder the chemist's shop over the way does a roaring trade; and the tall-hatted, frock-coated young doctor, standing on his doorstep, looks cheerfully up and down the street awaiting developments".
"Turning down a side-street on our homeward journey, we pass a provision shop lit up by rows of flaring gas-jets, and with many cheap dainties exposed outside. The pious proprietor, not content with extolling his butter, eggs, cheese, and bacon on three large announcement boards, devotes a fourth, and still larger one, to warning all and sundry to prepare themselves betimes for a future state, this board standing in suggestive proximity to a festoon of the highly questionable carcases of tenpenny rabbits".
Mackerel, when a big haul has been made on the coast, finds its way abundantly into the cheap markets on hucksters' stalls for the poor. In former times, because of its perishable nature, it was allowed to be sold on a Sunday. Gay notes, "Ev'n Sundays are prophaned by Mackrell cries." This fish furnishes nearly 3 per cent of xanthin, or uric acid.
"But flounders, sprats and cucumbers were cry'd, And every voice, and every sound were try'd. At last the law this hideous din supprest, And ordered that the Sunday should have rest, And that no nymph the noisy food should sell Except it were new milk, or mackerel. Hence mack'rel seem delightful to the eyes, Tho' drest with incoherent gooseberries".
Art of Cookery.
The Mackerel is from Maculellus, spotted, of the Scombridae, because of their brilliant prismatic coats.
The Turbot (Psella Maxima) is called after "a top," being also the Water-pheasant (with a flavour of its flesh, like that of the game bird), and the "Cannock fluke." The Greeks and Latins named it "Rombus, the lozenge, which beareth justly that figure".
It is the largest flat fish of European waters except the halibut. For invalids fond of Lobster, but who may not eat this, a salad thereof may be well imitated by cutting strips of cold boiled Turbot, and colouring them outside with beetroot juice, or by substituting cold Turbot, with pepper, and vinegar. "If you would live long"- says a trite adage - "avoid controversy, lobster salad, and quarrelsome folk".
The Salmon (Salmo, King Of Fish) is red-fleshed, and contains much fat, which is interspersed amongst the muscular fibres, and is accumulated under the skin. This fish is at its best just before spawning; on returning afterwards to the sea it is thin, and wasted. "Daintie, and wholesome is the Salmon," wrote Fuller, "and a double riddle in nature: First, for its invisible feeding, no man alive having ever found any meat in the maw thereof; secondly, for its strange leaping, or flying rather, so that some will have them termed Salmons, a saliendo." The fish is not named a Salmon before it attains the age of six years; in its first year it is called smolt, in the second sprod, in the third mort, in the fourth fork-tail, and in the fifth half-fish. When Salmon is crimped immediately after its removal from the water its flesh remains more solid, and retains the curd, or the coagulable albumin, which becomes a milky curd after the fish is boiled; but when the fish is kept a few days its flesh undergoes a change whereby the curd disappears; the meat then becomes more tender, and is improved in taste, or, as some enthusiasts declare, oily and balsamic properties are developed which render the flesh nutritious, and invigorating, diuretic, pectoral, and restorative. "By the fishmonger," says The Art of Cookery, "Crabs, salmon, lobsters are with Fennel spread That never touched the herb till they were dead".
Tinned Salmon is a questionable form of food, because at times the can has not remained completely air-tight, or the fish being left, however short a time, within the can after it has been opened, acts on the tin, and poisonous products are formed. Byron has recorded the prevailing notion that in his day Salmon was thought to need serving with a corrective sauce of some kind:-
"From travellers accustomed from a boy To eat their Salmon at the least with Soy".
The Tench (Tinca Vulgaris), being of a golden yellow colour, was formerly commended, on the doctrine of signatures, for giving to persons with jaundice, and liver obstructions. It was further supposed to have some healing virtue in its touch. Izaak Walton says in his Compleat Angler: "The Tench is observed to be a physician to other fish; and it is affirmed that a Pike will neither devour, nor hurt him, because the Pike being sick, or hurt by any accident, is cured by touching the Tench".