Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Herring,Haddock - Haute Cuisine.

It may not have been fancy-nancy cooking,but the food we had in Dalmore,as in other parts of Lewis,was tasty and nourishing. This was "organic food",50 years before the word "organic" came into common parlance. What carries that label now is a pale imitation of the foods we enjoyed back then . People were strong, and healthy and fit for quite demanding physical work, men and women alike. Then,no one had an allergy to food,except for me and the cats with porridge. Apart from certain essentials,everything which was consumed on the croft came from the croft, or from "the town" (Stornoway). Salt(rock salt crystals)was a very important item, and like flour and oatmeal it came in large sacks. Without electricity,there was no refrigeration,and the only recourse to preserving fresh food was salting(curing)or smoking (kippering). When, for example,a lot of fish had been caught,you would have fresh fish(boiled or fried) three times daily,then the remainder of the "catch" would be salted in large wooden tubs for a couple of days,and then dried indoors near the fire,or in sunny weather,draped over the fence outside the house,with someone sitting seagull watch. Fancy was a keen birdwatcher,but we would turn a blind eye to Phylax,or her kittens pinching a wee haddie. The fish(haddock was favourite) could then be stored dry,and could be boiled at a later date,and ,believe me,you would think you were eating a fresh haddock,albeit slightly salty. When we went fishing on my Uncle Shonnie's boat,there were plenty of fish in the seas then,and we could expect to catch a large variety,including haddock,whiting,mackerel,saith,sole,skate,gurnard and dogfish(rock salmon).We will go fishing another time !
But the main source of Omega 3( 'twas exuding from every pore)was the herring,referred to in song as the "Silver Darlings". The herring,of course,was caught well out to sea and unloaded at Stornoway,then a famous herring port. The herring was gutted,washed and packed into large wooden barrels,with alternate layers of herring and rock salt.After a time the herring would settle,and this allowed a few more layers to be added before the lid was secured. Too little salt caused the herring to "rust", where the salt had not reached the backbone. This was a terrible waste of good fish,and all for the sake of a few shillings worth of salt. "Glass", my grandfather,cured his own herring. He and another man would go over with his horse and cart to meet the herring fleet arriving in Stornoway in the "wee sma'hours" (a 50 mile round trip). They purchased a cart load of fish and cured the herring themselves. My grandpa's "sgadan sailte" was the sweetest you would ever taste.
My mother told me of a beauty contest organised by Neptune, King of the Seas, eons ago,in which " all the beautiful fish" were entered.After various eliminating rounds,the contest came down to one between the silver herring(A'Sgadan) and the beautiful sole, with its bright red spots on top,and its pure white skin on the underside.The sole expected to win,but when Neptune named the Herring the "Queen of the Seas",the sole, in bad grace and with utter contempt for the verdict exclaimed "A' Sgadan"(The Herring),twisting her mouth to emphasise her disgust.In that instant,her mouth froze in a terrible rictus,twisted for all eternity.

Shelley. Always good to hear from you !

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