Fish, like some politicians, will be back when conditions improve

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  • Doom merchants even had Nostradamus predicting the end of the World. Obviously, that didn't happen.

    Doom merchants even had Nostradamus predicting the end of the World. Obviously, that didn't happen.

So much for the hype! Apparently, yesterday, the 21st of December 2012 was not the end of our world.

The prognostications and doomsayers were quite convinced that it would come to pass and some interpreters even had the renowned Nostradamus predicting our extinction. I guess that the timing may have been off for us; and probably by a good deal.

It might have been correct for the Mayans but haven’t they been gone for a while anyway? The week might have marked the demise of some politicians, but like the fish that disappear when the inshore waters turn cool, they will be back later when conditions are more to their liking.

And that is pretty much the state of things now. The winter is making itself felt, having officially started yesterday as well. Although we feel as if Mother Nature has abandoned us and that it will never warm up again, rest assured that the sun’s warming rays are again creeping northward and while it will be some time before they are strong enough to banish Winter’s grip, there will come a time in the not so distant future when you will be reaching for the air conditioner controller and complaining about the heat.

Sport fishing is probably just about out of the question for the next week or so. Santa’s visits or the lack of them will lead some would-be anglers to partake of too much Christmas cheer to allow them to make early moves down to the Banks and the same gales that make the Jolly Old Elf’s reindeer fly at warp speed also do their share of keeping people home.

As mentioned at the end of November, it is a bit strange that seafood does not figure more in our holiday festivities. Turkeys are definitely an import from North America and the Dickensian tradition would have us thinking Christmas goose. By the way, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol story did more than you can imagine to establish our notions of Christmas and its traditions that we practice today.

The so-called Christian traditions have a lot of pagan basis; presumably because while the ancients were willing to change gods, they were not so quick to give up some of their festivals. After all, a party is a party!

Perhaps somewhat obviously most of the British traditions, pagan and otherwise, did not revolve around fish. The most readily caught freshwater species are harder to find during the winter months and many of the saltwater species move offshore as things cool down. Remember that a thousand years ago, there were no depth sounders or temperature charts and the boats themselves left more than a bit to be desired. The Yuletide (stemming from Norse or Viking tradition) had its effect on the British Isles and certain of their beliefs like mistletoe and burning logs were incorporated into the proceedings. Figure that the lord of the manor would roast beef or pork as the celebratory meal.

Further east into Europe, the carp, an important fresh water species, found favour with the people and in places like the Czech Republic, it is the main dish usually prepared in a traditional manner.

Farther south, in Spain, seafood figures a bit more prominently. That should come as no surprise because surrounded by water, and very different bodies of water, the Iberian Peninsula has fruits de mer deeply entrenched in the two countries’ culture.

Spain, in particular, has coasts on the Mediterranean (a warm body of water), the Bay of Biscay (much cooler), and the Atlantic. Each sea or ocean has its own species of shellfish and fish; all of which find their way inland to the capital, Madrid. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Spanish Christmas feast includes seafood tapas (snacks or hors d’ oeuvres), lobsters and the ubiquitous codfish (bacalao).

The latter is also popular in mainland Portugal because it was the Portuguese fishermen who probably were the first to indulge in the long-range fishing on the Grand Banks with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of codfish. Dried, salted and packed away, this species became the foundation of many diets, including our very own. Not surprisingly, Spain, endlessly in competition with Portugal, also took to the cod fishery with similar results. Both nations exported their culture and Christmas traditions and fare to their empires so that certain practices can be found all over the globe. For instance the Spanish nochebuena, Christmas celebratory meal is found in Puerto Rico, South and Central America and in the Philippines.

But it is Italy, particularly southern Italy and Sicily that really brought seafood into Christmas fare. It is their tradition that the Christmas meal, like the Spanish, is often eaten on Christmas Eve. In such instances, the lore prescribes that seven “fish” must be eaten before midnight. As a result, there are seafood starters, side dishes and main courses. These can involve finfish of various types as well as clams, mussels, oysters, crabs, shrimp, lobsters and maybe even some things that you never thought of as “seafood”. The true origin of this numbers-based meal is unknown but thought to be religious in nature: seven sacraments, seven virtues, etc. In any case, one thing that you can be sure of, when they say a “feast” they really do mean a feast!

So, back here in Bermuda, about the only fish that features big in the run-up to Christmas is the spiny lobster with that species being a particular favourite in restaurants, especially when the boss is buying. Guinea chicks are also popular but tend to be harder to get during the cooler months. Shrimp in various sizes are used as canapés and for starters on many menus but there are very few who associate such a crustacean with this particular holiday.

Also figuring in the Christmas/New Year festivities, although usually on the cocktail circuit, is caviar. While not thought of by many as “seafood” it is, being the roe or eggs of some fish. Lots of species’ eggs are used: salmon, trout, whitefish and others are common versions of this delicacy. Definitely moving up into the champagne class is the most preferred caviar which comes from the sturgeon (the largest freshwater fish) in the Caspian region. The finest examples of this can cost thousands of dollars a pound, so if you happen to find yourself on the receiving end of this, be sure to roll your eyes and ooh and aah appropriately.

So, with the weather and social scene pretty much precluding any fishgn for the next few days, now would seem to be the opportune time to wish one and all a safe and very Happy Christmas with Santa bringing all some bountiful Tight lines!!!

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Published Dec 22, 2012 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm)

Fish, like some politicians, will be back when conditions improve

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