To Cook Pike or other white fish

At last, a savoury dish appears in the recipe books! (What a shame that my photography skills can’t do it justice…) This recipe is on the second page of Maimie’s book so, as ever, is difficult to date. The mid-1880s would be my best guess. Maimie is in her late teens or early twenties. Two of her younger brothers, Charles and James, are off at boarding school, leaving Maimie with her siblings Ethel and Edmund.

If there was one ingredient there would be no shortage of in the Harrison household, it was pike. As the photograph in an earlier post shows, the family home, Newby Bridge House, was on the banks of the River Leven, as it flows from Lake Windermere. Below is a picture of the front of the house in 1955. It was more than three decades after the Harrison family had left and by then it was a hotel but the basic structure of the house would not have changed much. It was certainly an imposing structure – and fishing looks like it wouldn’t have been a problem!

Photo of Newby Bridge, Newby Bridge Hotel c.1955
Photo of ‘Newby Bridge, Newby Bridge Hotel c.1955’ from Francis Frith:

But back to the pike. Windermere was well-known for its fishing, including pike. In July 1844, The Preston Chronicle reported that ‘A lady angler, – an experienced hand, by the way, hooked no fewer than twenty-six pikes in Windermere, the other day.’ In 1868, a pike in Windermere was only caught after ‘a gallant struggle, lasting above half an hour’; it weighed a mammoth 23lb. At the time of this recipe, people were still using otters to fish for pike in Windermere, although it was prohibited. No doubt Maimie’s father, James Harrison, would not have approved, being on the Board of Conservators of the ‘Kent, Bela, Winster, Leven, and Duddon Fishery District’.

I have never, to my knowledge, eaten pike, which apparently have a soft flesh and delicate flavour but are chock-full of bones. I decided to plump for a more easily-obtainable white fish, in this case Dover Sole. I followed Mamie’s recipe, below:

Cut fillets and after covering them with plenty of egg and bread crumbs, fry them over a brisk fire, till thoroughly browned. Then pour over them a gravy made thus.

After removing the fillets, lay the bones and trimmings in a stew pan, with two shallots and a small bunch of parsley. Stew them for one hour, and strain the liquor which add to the following sauce. Put two ounces of butter over the fire, when melted add the above liquor, and also one tablespoon of soy, one dessert spoonful of anchovy, one of Worcester Sauce, and a little salt.

I was interested to see the addition of Soy sauce and Worcestershire Sauce. Clarissa Dickson Wright in her A History of English Food writes that ‘Sauces had certainly long been popular in England…But it was left to the Victorians to industrialise the process on a major scale. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce dates from the year of Victoria’s coronation – 1837. With its blend of anchovies, seasoning and vinegar it belongs to a tradition that stretches back to the fermented fish sauce of Roman and Greek times.’

It might not look like much but this was a surprisingly tasty meal. The ‘gravy’ was buttery but with an umami kick from the sauces and anchovies. If I had a ready supply of pike at the bottom of my garden I’m sure I’d be making it more often.

14 thoughts on “To Cook Pike or other white fish

  1. No, the fish was just bread-crumbed and shallow fried (wasn’t sure my woodburner counted as a ‘brisk fire’!) I always thought pike was meant to be a bit muddy but perhaps I’m thinking of carp (which I have never tried either).


  2. Woo looks/sounds so good! I also love pikes but we usually eat grilled one with a sprinkle of salt on the fish, and the side of a mixture of grated daikon radish, a little soy sauce and splash of citrus juice(similar flavor to lime.) The sauce you mentioned also sounds so good😍 The buttery flavor sauce must be amazing😋

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s