Fish From Home And Foreign Waters
( Originally Published 1917 )
Fresh-and salt-water fish. The people of the United States consume many thousand pounds of imported fish each year, in addition to great quantities of domestic fish from both salt and fresh waters. Our imports cover a wide range, from the bundles of dried stockfish from Norway to the tiny bottles of pepper-stuffed anchovies from France, and the tubes of sardellen or anchovy paste from Germany.
In the fish market of a large department store the writer saw a man make four purchases which instantly brought to mind pictures of the remote parts of the world from which they had come. One pound of. smoked halibut came from the icy waters of Alaska; a bottle of French anchovies, from the sunny Mediterranean; a dried herring, from the picturesque fiords of Norway; and some California crabs, from the Pacific coast.
A second customer bought some spiced herring from a cask. This herring came from Holland, although it had been spiced in this country. Its home had been the North Sea.
Herring and where we get it. Herring is an important fish. In a single year we imported more than 76,000,000 pounds at a cost of more than $3,000,000. We bought 36 per cent of this from Scotland, ' 26 per cent from the Nether. lands, 14.5 per cent from Norway, .10.5 per cent from Canada, 9 per cent from England, and 4 per cent from Asia. Besides what we import, many million pounds of herring are caught by our own fishermen off the coasts of Newfoundland. Some of our more daring fishermen sail their boats far north into the cold waters about Iceland and fish alongside the Scotchmen, the Scandinavians, and the Dutch. ' Many dangers are braved in those waters, and little John, in his Maine home, may be looking anxiously seaward for the return of his father, whose boat is perhaps within hailing distance of that which carries the father of little Olaf in Norway.
The Norwegians take steamers to Iceland, where they catch_ and pack fish. These fish usually are taken back to Norway, whence they are shipped all over the world. But one time when some Norwegians, who were fishing in Iceland waters, were anxious to get flour, they loaded thirty-four hundred barrels of herring and some wool on the steamer "Hermod" and shipped it direct to New York, where the arrival of the fishing vessel created no little excitement. At New York the boat was reloaded with flour and immediately sailed for home.
Marketing herrings. Herrings are sold in many ways—fresh, salted, pickled, canned, and smoked. The Great Lakes abound in a whitefish known commercially as fresh-water herring. These great lakes yield annually about 150,000 half barrels of herring, most of which are salted. There are many salting plants on the lakes, especially along the Lake Superior coast. Duluth is the chief shipping point for these fish. After being dressed and "boned" the herring is from five to twelve inches long and is packed in ten-pound boxes. Herring roe—or a mass of fish eggs-is also packed in America. It is taken from herring caught in Chesapeake Bay and in the mouths of rivers in Virginia and the Carolinas. Roe is usually sold in two-pound tins.
Newfoundland bloaters. Bloaters are smoked herring. The fish are caught largely off Newfound-land and Nova Scotia. The fishing vessels go there in November, the best herring being found from October to March. The catch is dumped into the hold of the vessel and covered with salt. The vessels are then brought to Gloucester, Massachusetts, where their cargo is washed in warm water. This removes the dirt and salt from the outside of the fish and also extracts a good deal of the salt from the flesh itself. The herring are then smoked and packed in boxes. The boxes are of two sizes, one containing fifty fish, the other one hundred.
The best grade of bloaters is selected from the top of the cargo and from herring carried in barrels on the deck of the vessels. They are called fancy bloaters, and are so tagged. These are the same quality of herring as those packed in the hold of the vessel, the difference being that they are handled in a special way.
Other kinds of herring. The fish market also offers us a delicacy known as the Bismarck herring, which comes from Germany. Baby herring, two, or three inches long, are canned with wine and find ready sale in this country. The so-called Russian sardine is really a small Norwegian herring with its head cut off. These fish, which are sent to us from Germany, are put up in pails with spices and vinegar.
In Norway there are large canneries that pack herring for export to this country. From there come the tins of herring in tomato sauce, marinaded herring, spiced herring, filleted herring in olive oil, and smoked herring, which are about the size of French sardines, put up in olive oil.
It is said by one who has been long in the business of importing fish that 96 per cent of the herring imported from Norway and Holland is eaten pickled, and is not cooked.
Catching and marketing tuna fish. Another customer at the fish market bought an article which will take us on a long voyage from the sea where the fat Iceland herring is caught. She took a twenty-five cent can of tuna, or "chicken of the sea," as it is called. It is also known as "the aristocrat of the ocean." Tuna is found only in the mild waters of the Pacific, off the coast of southern California. The island city of Avalon, Catalina Island, California, is famed for its tuna fishing. The California 'leaping tuna is one of the gamest of fish. Like all other tuna fish, it is caught with hook and line and will battle for hours before it can be safely landed. The tunny fish, which is of the same family as the California tuna, is caught in the Mediterranean.
It is the long-fin tuna, however, that furnishes us with a rare delicacy. These fish travel in large schools, live in deep water, and come to the surface only in mild weather.
In the early summer, small power boats from California fish for tuna at from five to fifty miles out from shore. In this manner the larger California tuna canneries are supplied. Tuna fish weigh from fifteen to seventy-five pounds each and are very active.
The fish are cleaned on the boats and when they are brought to the canneries are given a thorough washing with salt water. They are then cooked whole by steam in big steel retorts, or boilers. When the fish are thoroughly cooked, the skin, bones, and dark meat are easily separated from the white, which is packed in tins and again cooked. Some Italian and French tunny fish are packed in olive oil but this is sold mainly to native Italians in this country.
Sardines. By choosing a box of French sardines packed in olive oil, one customer at the fish market drew a contribution from the warm waters of the Mediterranean. On the same shelf were boxes of Norwegian sardines packed in tomato sauce. These are a little fish known as "brisling." American sardines packed in cottonseed oil and in mustard dressing were also on sale at the market. These are a much cheaper grade of sardine, produced for the trade that cannot afford the more expensive grades. The best sardines are those packed in olive oil and shipped from France. Portugal also sends us sardines in olive oil, but these are not as popular as those of the French pack.
The sardines caught by American fishermen in the Atlantic Ocean are found off the coast of Maine. In California, a large industry has been developed in the packing of sardines. They are packed in olive oil, in tomato and mustard sauce, and are also spiced. At first the packers called these fish mackerel, but the government found them to be really a genuine pilchard, which is the same as the sardine caught in Portuguese waters. Japan is pushing ahead in the sardine industry to a notable extent.
A Brittany catch. Now open your geography, and on your map of Europe find Brittany in France. From here come the world's finest sardines. If we were to journey to Brittany, we ,should find many large canneries, with many men, women, and children busily at work preparing the sardines for our tables.
The best fishing months in the Brittany waters are September and October. Large quantities of bait in the form of salted cod eggs and of other fnsh eggs mixed with flour, are thrown into the water -about the nets in order to attract the sardines. The fishermen try to get their catch to the cannery as soon as possible so that the fish will be in fresh condition when delivered. Usually they are able to deliver them to the cannery within two or three hours after they are caught.
When the fish reach the cannery their heads and insides are removed, and the bodies thrown into large vats of strong brine where they are left for an hour. They are next put into baskets and washed in fresh or salt water to remove the loose scales, dirt, and undissolved salt. Then they are dried, in the open air if possible.
For open-air drying, the fish are arranged by hand, in wire baskets or trays, each holding about one hundred and fifty medium-sized fish, and set on wooden frames or racks. The fish are placed with their tails up, so that the water may run out. They are left to dry for about an hour and then taken, in the same baskets, to the cooking rooms. There they are immersed in boiling oil. They are allowed to cook in this oil for from two to four minutes, after which the oil is drained off and the fish are taken to the packing room. They are next packed in cans, the best sardines with the highest grade of olive oil, and then cooked again in boiling water.
Sardines are also packed in other ways, but this one method will enable us to form an idea as to how these fish are prepared for market.
Sardellen. The next customer at the fish market was an old gentleman, who looked as if he were either a foreigner or a man who had, traveled widely. He asked for sardellen.
What are sardellen? They are a small fish of the herring family. They are caught in the Zuider Zee, spiced, and put up in Holland. Sardellen are very expensive. They are sold in small hardwood, hand-made kegs for $1.25 a keg. The kegs hold from one and a half to two pounds. A peculiar thing about the sardellen is that the longer they remain in the kegs the more valuable they are. This is probably the only packed fish that becomes more valuable with time.
Sardellen are used by chefs for flavoring steaks. The Hollanders soak them in milk for about twenty minutes and then eat them uncooked in sandwiches.
All of this teaches us that the herring family supplies us with many delicacies, affords work for many thousands of men, women, and children, and in some countries practically replaces meat on the family table.
Mackerel from northern seas. Another customer at the market, a little girl, bought a pound of mackerel and again sent us back to the waters of the North. While our own fishermen catch great quantities of this fish off Nova Scotia, we buy many million pounds from other countries each year. In one year we imported more than 10,000,000 pounds of mackerel from Norway alone. We also import mackerel from England, Ireland, Canada, and the Netherlands.
The Norwegians catch their mackerel in the Skager-Rak. Note on your map how far this is from where the Americans fish for their mackerel. The mackerel is a great traveler. In 1884 and 1885 the United States produced 500,000 barrels of mackerel. Then the mackerel swam north-ward and disappeared from our waters. No one knew where they went. The fishermen, thrown out of work, scattered and some of them went West. At that time the mackerel were brought into the market fresh instead of being salted on the boats, as they are now. By and by the mackerel returned from their long northern journey, to find no fishermen. But gradually mackerel fishing again became important.
The Norwegians claim to have the best mackerel because they cure them immediately, and they are whiter than the Scotch mackerel, which are allowed to remain unbled until they turn a darker color. But from Ireland we get a white mackerel as choice as. the Norwegian. This is because the fishermen use small boats, allowing their nets to drag out behind them. At one end of the net is the boat and at the other end a buoy. The catches are made at night and the fish brought to shore early in the morning, when the women cut them up and pack them in salt.
The Norwegian fishermen travel with a school of mackerel and as fast as they catch the fish they bleed and cure them right in the boats. The men in the boats will have as many as half a dozen lines apiece trailing in the water.
There is a very fine small mackerel put up in tins by the French. It is a trifle larger than the ordinary sardine and is packed in olive oil. We also receive canned mackerel from Holland and Scotland.
American mackerel. The common mackerel, which is a very beautiful fish, appears in enormous schools swimming northward off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. The fisherman takes his toll from these schools as they proceed toward colder waters. They have been traced as far north as Labrador, where they have disappeared. How much farther north these fish go, no one knows.
The American mackerel is caught mostly in drift or train nets, but single nets are also often used. Fresh mackerel is in season only from April to November, but the greater part of the catch is salted, smoked, and canned. Mackerel is also pickled and spiced. In Europe the best mackerel is caught off the coasts of Norway and Ireland, and in this country off the coast of New England.
The Norwegian mackerel is caught with hook and line. The Scotch mackerel is caught with seines, that is, nets with buoys attached. At night the nets are set, the fish swim into them, and in the morning the hauls are made.
Sometimes mackerel attain a length of twenty inches, but the mackerel of average market size is about twelve inches, and the average weight from three quarters of a pound to a pound.
Codfish. Another patron of the market, a little girl with flaxen hair and big blue eyes, bought three pounds of lutefisk. Swedish lutefisk, vaakerfisk, zartfisk, winterfisk, and Italian roundfish, are all made from stockfish, which is dry-cured codfish.
Codfish are caught off the banks of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and in the Arctic waters along the far northern coasts of North America and Europe. Cod ranges in size up to one hundred pounds. A common length in codfish is two and a half to three feet. .While the greater proportion of codfish is salt-pickle cured, yet there is a considerable amount of it used fresh. It is caught with both nets and lines. On account of its large size and the stormy waters it inhabits, fishing for cod is a fascinating but a very dangerous occupation.
Codfish is cured as soon as possible after catching. The fish are first split from head to tail and then cleaned of all traces of blood by repeated washings in salt water. After the water is drained from them they are placed in vats and covered with salt, where they are left until cured. When cured they are washed and brushed to remove the salt and then put in the sun to dry.
We import large quantities of codfish from Canada and the Scandinavian countries.
From the same waters as codfish come haddock, hake, and pollock.
The anchovy. One of the most interesting of all fish is the little anchovy, which, when put up in bottles, usually finds its way into wealthy homes.
The genuine anchovy is caught in the Mediterranean Sea and packed in France and .Italy. It is a very small fish and is packed in olive oil and put up in cans and handsome ringed bottles. The Italians also pack anchovies in salt and put them up in large tins containing from one to twenty-five pounds. In France, anchovies stuffed with small red peppers are also put up in ringed bottles. The Germans import them to make anchovy paste, which is put up in tubes and shipped to all parts of the world. England also makes this paste and puts it in little stone jars. This anchovy paste is used chiefly for sandwiches. The ancient Greeks prepared a sauce from anchovies which was known as "garum."
The fish known as the Norwegian anchovy is entirely different from the Mediterranean anchovy. The Norwegian anchovy is not an imitation of the Mediterranean, for it has been in use in Norway for many years. The original Norwegian anchovies, sold in pails and small barrels, were spiced " brisling," the same product as that put up in Holland. Besides pickling and spicing them, the Norwegian canners now tin their product in olive oil, oyster, tomato, and wine sauce.
Caviar. Another product, which goes with the anchovy into the homes of the rich, is caviar, which is put up in small jars or tins. Genuine caviar is the salted roe, or eggs, of sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea. Not many years ago this product was made from the sturgeon caught in our own inland lakes. As the supply of sturgeon has become exhausted, some American packers have resorted to obtaining. roe from domestic fish caught in the rivers and inland lakes of the South, such as spoonbills, buffalo fish; and catfish. But this roe is not large, nor has it the fine flavor of sturgeon roe.
The finest quality of caviar is that from the beluga, the "great white sturgeon" of the Russians, largest of all sturgeons. This fish attains a length of twelve or fourteen feet and weighs more than a ton. A single "cow" or female fish has been known to give three hundred and seventy pounds of roe. But these large fish are becoming extinct and the average beluga now caught is much smaller.
Practically all Russian caviar is handled by German merchants, who export it to all countries. In 1914 the supply was large and the Germans bought almost all of it, but throughout the European War its export was impossible.
Lobster. The last sale observed at the fish market was a pound can of lobster. By many people the lobster is considered the most delicious of all sea food. Enormous quantities of lobsters are consumed in the fresh state and when used in this way they are. usually sold alive. Lobsters are caught in traps known as lobster pots, and are brought to market alive. They are found all along the Atlantic coast, from Delaware to Labrador, but the coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia furnish the largest yield. Lobsters sometimes attain a weight of twenty pounds.
Breeding the lobster. It is said that only about one lobster out of every 5,000 will reach maturity, but as the large lobsters lay as many as 40,000 eggs at a time, it is unlikely that the family will become extinct. Also the government has adopted "sea nurseries" where artifncial propagation has proved successful. According to the statistics of the United States, the lobster industry of this country in one year amounted to almost $2,000,000. The volume varies from year to year.
A peculiar thing about a lobster is that it grows only during the period after it has cast its shell and while the new one is forming. But during this period its growth is marvelous. This is nature's way of offsetting the hard shell which envelops it, as that will not stretch and naturally the young lobster must do its growing while it can. So the lobster must make its growth while it is free from the shell or before the new shell is sufficiently hardened to prevent growth.
Lobsters are continually fighting each other. During their combats, it is quite common for one of the fighters to lose a leg or a claw. This will be replaced by a new growth, which, however, will be smaller than the original.
In spite of the enormous quantities of lobsters caught at home, we buy yearly from other countries —chiefly Canada—about 6,000,000 pounds of fresh lobster. A very small amount comes from Europe and Asia.
For the benefit of the people in parts of the country where fresh lobster is not available, and for the convenience of those not wishing to cook the lobster themselves, many thousand cans of this delicacy are put up in this country every year. A ' limited amount is also imported from Europe and British South Africa, while large quantities are imported from Canada. In one year, for instance, Canada, besides its usual shipment of fresh lobster, furnished us with almost 3,000,000 pounds of the canned article.
Crab meat from Japan. One cannot consider the lobster without mentioning its first cousin, the crab. Crab meat, especially that of the Japanese crab, is very much like lobster. When the first Japanese crab meat appeared on the American market a few years ago, it was hailed with delight. We now receive many thousands of pounds from the Japanese each year. This is packed in one-pound tins. Crab meat may be served in a variety of ways.
The terrapin. You have already learned so much about ocean delicacies that you probably will not be surprised to learn that perhaps the most expensive meat eaten to-day—that of the terrapin—comes from the sea. But it will no doubt surprise you to learn that this meat was once considered practically worthless and was therefore fed to slaves and the lowest grade of laborers. The terrapin belongs to the turtle family. It is a small turtle, ranging from three to nine inches in length, and yet a single one sometimes sells for eight dollars, although the usual price is considerably less. A peculiar thing about the terrapin is that only the female is considered good to eat, the male being practically without value.