|Fish on Friday
Fish on Friday is a story not of kings, popes, and statesmen, but of humbler folk-fishers, merchants, and monks, who lived and worked far from the spotlight of history. In all but a few cases, we don’t know their names, but their devotion and hard work yielded more wealth than all the gold and silver extracted by the Spaniards from the Indies. That wealth was fish—fresh, dried, smoked, or salted, eaten to satisfy religious doctrine and as rations by armies and sailors.
This book takes you on a 1500 year-journey that begins with Christ’s epochal fast in the wilderness and ends with the European settlement of North America in the early seventeenth century. Fish is a fascinating excursion into the byways of history, into the symbolism of fish in early Christianity and the diets of monastic communities, into the techniques of fish preservation and the habits of cod and herring. We attend royal banquets and eat with humbler folk subsisting off eels, follow the rapid growth of the medieval herring industry after the eleventh century, and catch cod off the Lofoton Islands of northern Norway. As cod replace herrings as the staple for Fridays and Lent, so new designs of fishing boats take fishers much further afield—to Ireland, Iceland, and beyond. History records that John Cabot sailed westward from Bristol in 1497 and discovered the Newfoundland cod fisheries. I argue from tantalizing, but suggestive clues that there may have been English fishers off North America before then, perhaps as early as 1480. The story ends with the rapid development of the Newfoundland, and then the New England fisheries. Fish on Friday also weaves seventeen historical and modern fish recipes into a hitherto untold story, giving a brief insight into changing fish cookery since Roman times. Maps, line drawings, and photographs amplify the story.