We may not be devouring jellied eels by the seaside, but we need to remain discerning about the fish we eat, writes Kate Gibbs, editor of JamieOliver.com Australia.
Rummaging through some old family photos recently I found this lovely snap that to me looks more like a historic Vogue shoot than one of my gorgeous mum in her early 20s. Ahh …. The English seaside in the late 1960s … fairgrounds and pebbled beaches, long piers that have since sadly burned to ashes, and stalls selling pots of shrimp and jellied eel from tiny cups.
She’s bought the jellied eel, something that was still a little out there even back then, an unusual choice compared to the much more "modern" prawn cocktails, scampi, cockles and crabs. But the ever-adventurous foodie went for something I still have never dared try. But, she regretted it hours later. The eel made her “the sickest I have ever been”, she's since told me, and the story has become family folklore. “Remember that time with the jellied eels…”
But the whole thing still harks back romantically to a time when we were relatively fearless about food. Okay so the refrigeration at this stall probably left something to be desired, or definitely did, but I love that there was more on offer than packets of crisps, fizzy drinks, and some deep fried meat monstrosity on a stick. It makes so much more sense to sit by the beach with fresh seafood than some bag of chicken-flavoured Twisties and a donut.
There are things about this picture that of course are far from sensible. Long tweed skirts and starched white shirts are not exactly beach-wear de rigeur, even in cooler months. But while we can still get some excellent fish and chips here in Aus, and certainly in England, a little of the adventurous has fallen from many of these places - or from us. I'd love to see fresh prawn cocktails, not the fried-only sort so often on offer, and if not jellied eels then perhaps a wider variety of fish - (on this, please NEVER get flake, or shark, it's severely overfished). Also incredible about this picture is the tiny serving - we're now so often gluttonous with fish and chips, and even wearing a bikini is not enough to restrain us!
There are some wonderful fish and chips shops around the Australian coastline doing great things with fish - using local, sustainable, fresh fish and steeping it in homemade batter that creates a crunchy protective exterior to the fish within. And I tip my hat and curtsy my tweed skirt to those people, and to the people who expect such high standards for seaside feasts.
Thats an interesting photo , I would at frst glance said it was early 70's by the looking at the clothes , but late 60's I am sure woulld also fit.
When I first saw your post I thought 'thats odd , I did not realise they had jellied eels in Australia... I thought they were one off those add British things'
then I read your post.
Thanks for sharing a bit of your family history with us all , its a great photo and one that I am sure will spark off memories and stories amongst the family.
For me , this sort of seaside fish stand sparks of memories of visits to my (Maternal) Grandmother in Scarborough.
I wish I'd had a chance to try jellied eels. I've had eel in different preparations only a handful of times in Japan and here in the U.S. and loved it.
So glad you guys like the pic - I just love it and think I might print it up for the wall. Do you know Mummza you're probably right - it could be 1970 as you suggest. She was quite forward-thinking with her fashion too, so you never know! Kate.
Jellied eels were not "out there" at the time..............they were & still are a very traditional (jellied eels have been eaten in these islands since Mediaeval times, & probably beyond) London East End thing & found in Pie Shops & Markets still, & also found wherever Londoners took their holidays & Daytrips. Jellied eels can still be found up & down the country (several stalls in Scarborough had them last week!) & certainly from a stall those size portions are about right at the seaside.
As far as Prawn Cocktail goes...............I have never seen one containing the "fried-only sort", thankfully............& I have eaten many in my lifetime!
If you ate at some of the places I visit you would see that other than the hemline of her skirt, mum's photo hasn't changed much!
Note: If you have ever endured an out-of-season English coastal holiday, you would realise that tweeds ARE still de riguer if you don't want frostbite! Bikinis.........what are they? Brrr!
Jellied Eels, an east london dish, that looks erm not that good. I have had Conger eel (nice) and elver eel(nice). But the world famous Tubby Isacs Jellied ell stall scares me.
Got any eels boy? This is what most UK people now asociate eels with. Clasic Comedy from Mighty Boosh. Check it out.
Prawn cotails, I saw a mexican one on Tuesday. It had loads of cool things in it.Mexican Food Made Simple. It was on Chanel 5 UK presented by Thomasina Miers.
Just to clarify......
.........Elvers are simply juvenile eels, not a species in their own right.
If we denied ourselves the opportunity of eating new things on the basis that it "looks, erm, not that good", our prejudice would prevent us experiencing untold delights.
It seems to me that the mark of an educated person is that they have the ability to rise above their own prejudices.
When I saw that shot (before reading your post) I immediately thought it was from Vogue. So cool!
I've never tried jellied eels. It's definitely not something I've ever seen stateside! The closest I've ever gotten is eel sushi, which is quite delicious.
It's a wonderful substitute for me for shellfish, boneless, sweet, delicate eel, Japanese sauce or jellied, mmmm, bring it on.