In spite of a considerable amount of trade grumbling, the best part of the market is still held by English fish, as a glance at any time over the names on the crates will show. The foreign importations, though large, are not nearly so extensive as might be supposed.
As a rule the north British ports furnish the largest supply; the southern ports suffer the most from foreign competition. Continental freightage also is light, and as the foreigner rarely keeps very closely to the laws of "fence months," he gets fish into the market when no home-caught of the same kind is to be had.
If all people, both rich and poor, could be persuaded to eat fish more freely, they would be benefited both in health and pocket.
If the demand were greater the supply would be more liberal, more varied, and also much cheaper.
At present, although there is much complaining about catches falling off, many grounds yielding but a poor harvest, yet tons of fish are annually sent away from the markets for manure.
The trade is both risky and variable, consequently prices have to be kept up that the dealer may realise some profit, and for this state of things the modern housewife is largely accountable.
It is not wholly a question of price, although there is still much to desire on this point.
Ignorance, especially with the working-man's wife, will generally be found to be the cause of the aversion which many housewives have to the cooking of fish; even in middle and upper class households much ignorance as to the kinds of fish and the best means of making use of them prevails.
The poorer classes still regard fish as "nothing to make a meal of," and, sad to say, a great many of the poor of our cities will not eat fish, however cheaply they may get it. They have many advantages of getting it which those who live in superior neighbourhoods have not.
Often before the Central Market closes, first-rate cod is to be had for twopence the pound—a seven-pound cod for a shilling. Plentiful and wholesome as cod is, it is seldom much thought of by poor people. Salted, sun-dried cod, is thought beneath notice, although large quantities are consumed on the continent, and some very dainty dishes made therefrom. Plaice, too, generally to be had at fourpence the pound, is but lightly esteemed.
Humble Londoners care most for smoked fish, "something that has a grip with it," they say. To meet this demand many adulterations are practised by the cockney curer. "Haddocks" are often but indifferent codling. The "Finnan Haddie" was caught in the Scheldt, and Stavanger herrings are passed off as Yarmouth bloaters.
Unwholesome common lobsters, winkles, and whelks, are preferred to good substantial fish, and, as before stated, ignorance of the proper methods of cooking is most frequently the reason of this.
Where late dinners, with people of small incomes, are coming more into favour, it is found an economy, as it is also considered the "correct thing," to have a course of fish. Indeed, as an economical article of diet, fish has few rivals.
Many people who really would enjoy eating it are debarred from doing so by its being invariably badly cooked, or presented always in the same monotonous dress.
Phosphorus being essential for brain food, and as analysis has proved fish to contain a greater amount than almost any other article of diet, it is the more valuable still on this account.
The fish which afford the most nourishment are the kinds which most resemble meat, as salmon, mackerel, &c.; turbot and halibut, though strictly belonging to the "lighter" order, are very nourishing on account of the amount of meat which they bear in proportion to bone. The whiter kinds of fish are the most easily digestible, as soles or cod, whiting, &c., and some kinds of river fish, notably perch.
With the exception of trout—and perhaps pike—fresh-water fish are less esteemed than they deserve to be.
Salmon is sometimes called a river fish, though genuinely it is not so, as, although born in the river, the sea is its home and natural sphere.
In Parisian restaurants many dainty dishes are prepared from fish caught in the Seine; and in country places where sea-water fish is often difficult to obtain, the ponds and rivers will often furnish excellent substitutes.
All fresh-water fish—with the exception of trout—is at its best in winter-time.
Shell-fish, perfectly harmless in themselves as they may be, exemplify the saying that "what is one man's meat is another man's poison;" accordingly, where they are found to disagree they should be strictly avoided.
Oysters, the most highly esteemed of shell-fish, are frequently ordered by the physician when it is desirable to unite great nourishment with easy digestion, the amount of gluten they contain giving them this valuable quality.
Lobsters are popularly considered to be the least harmful next to oysters, and the flesh of a fresh crab is both delicate and delicious.
Shrimps, prawns, and crayfish, should properly rank as "relishes"; they are extremely useful in savoury dishes, either with or without other fish.
Cockles are deservedly esteemed by the rich, and they have often staved off the pressure of starvation from the poor of our coasts.
The limpet is a great favourite with the Irish, while the periwinkle is the poor man's luxury, and the clam enjoys high favour in the United States.
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