Lamprey eel pie? It’s not always good to be Queen.
No, don’t go all Freud-y on me, but I do not like snakes. And, while I understand that they’re fish, I don’t like eels, which I regard as snakes of the sea, either. Things that slither, well, no can do.
My feelings about eels extends to eating them.
Sure, they may technically be fish, but I just don’t like the consistency of eel. I can gag some down in sushi, but that’s only if it’s stuffed in rice, wrapped in seaweed, and doused in soy, ginger, and wasabi.
So while I might envy Queen Elizabeth’s fetching hats and her corgis, I do not covet the lamprey pie that the City of Gloucester -that would be the original City of Gloucester in the U.K., not the Perfect Storm, unoriginal City of Gloucester in Massachusetts – has been bestowing on the reigning monarch since the Middle Ages. Lamprey eel pie is rolled and patted out for special occasions, like coronations and mega-anniversaries. And Lilibet’s upcoming Diamond Jubilee, celebrating a whopping 60 years on the throne, is certainly a mega-anniversary.
Alas, the lamprey is an endangered and protected species in England, so, this time around, the Brits are having to rely on their American cousin, in this case, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, a group that straddles the US and Canada, and is focused on the fish health of the Great Lakes.
As it happens, one man’s meat is another man’s poison, metaphorically speaking. What is a protected creature in England is, Great Lakes-wise, a pest, a foreign predator scarfing down native fish:
Commission spokesman Marc Gaden shipped 2 pounds of frozen lamprey from Lake Huron. He says Great Lakes officials "would prefer to send them truckloads of lamprey." (Source: NY Times.)
Q. What’s less appetizing than two pounds of lamprey?
A. Two pounds of frozen lamprey.
But the good pie-bakers of Gloucester are not turning up their nose at outsider-lamprey. I guess when you’re down at your ‘eels, you’re just happy to have a source for the main ingredient of this “uniquely British recipe.” (I wonder if they use Marmite.) Gloucester-ites do, however, acknowledge that one of its “greatest traditions is changing.”
According to This is Gloucester, that tradition actually changed a while back. The last pie that included local lamprey from the River Severn was made in 1977, when the Queen celebrated Silver Jubilee. A decade ago, for her Golden, they had to find their lamprey elsewhere.
Citizen journalist Martin Kirby, who sourced the lamprey for the golden jubilee pie through his involvement with the Barton Fayre Committee, said: "I was asked to find the eels and was surprised to find out that we couldn't get them from Gloucestershire, but luckily they are not as treasured in America and Canada.
"It is great that we have been able to keep the tradition alive. even if it cannot be with lamprey from Gloucester waters."
I like the idea of a citizen journalist, but Martin Kirby is actually a professional journalist who writes for The Citizen, a local Gloucester paper. And here I was thinking that an enterprising citizen journalist took on the hunt for the elusive lamprey.
In any case, lamprey pie has been, ah, popular since the way-back:
The pie has been a favourite of gourmets since the Middle Ages, when the royal gift tradition began.
There can be too much of a good thing, however:
A weakness for the fish is thought to have proved fatal for King Henry I, who in 1135 died of food poisoning after eating "a surfeit of lampreys", while Samuel Pepys' diaries speak of the their popularity among "medieval epicures".
Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that Henry died on my birthday, December 1. While I, too, may just as easily die on my birthday as on any other day, I can guarantee that I will not be dying of “a surfeit of lampreys.” I will note, however, that Henry I died in France, so the eels were of the French, rather than the River Severn or Great Lakes variety. I will further note that Henry I also had something of a surfeit of offspring – 25, in fact. Obviously a man of substantial, surfeit-y appetite.
Presumably, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and the rest of the palace gang, will not be suffering any gastrointestinal ailments -let alone death - due to “a surfeit of lampreys.” Two pounds of frozen eel can only extend so far.
On May 4th, the frozen lamprey will be ceremoniously presented to the Gloucester City Council by the Great Lakes Commission’s Marc Gaden, who will no doubt be delighted to off-load what, on his organization’s web site, is referred to as a “predator in paradise.”
And to Queen Elizabeth I can only say “Enjoy!”
By the way: this is what a lamprey looks like:
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