In honor of bluefish season …

Lisa in the comments admits to detesting bluefish. This is for her, an oldie from my days as FishWire correspondent for Cape Cod and The Islands at Reel-Time.

“Fish was rarely on the menu in my childhood unless it came out of a box, was pre-breaded, and could be cooked on a cookie sheet in under an hour in a 450 degree oven. My father, the original meat-and-potato man, forbade fish or chicken in the house. Chicken, because he had a phobia of chickens due to his World War II duties as keeper of the household chicken coop; fish, because his mother would can bluefish with a pressure cooker in Mason jars to lay up some protein for the winter months.

My brother and I took the tale of canned bluefish as pure Cape Cod legend, up there with stealing coal and catching cabbages that fell off of trucks as part of the “penny-saved-penny earned” lectures we were subjected to whenever the old gent finished paying the monthly bills and decided we would live without electricity for the next month (his favorite economizing move was to make orange juice with the frozen stuff but forbid it ever being shaken or stirred. The idea was to add more water over time, allowing the orange sausage of concentrate to hang on the bottom of the bottle, pale orange water above it).

The canned bluefish was just a quaint myth until I cleaned out the cellar last winter and found a sixty-year old Mason jar filled with what appeared to be a pickled demon fetus from the Omen IV. We opened it on the front lawn while wearing heavy rubber gloves. The grass is still dead there, like some sort of crop circle left by aliens.

Here are some recipes from the Churbuck Culinary Academy of Ruined Food, courtesy of my predecessors who never met a fish they could stomach:

Honey, the Dog Is Eating Grass Again Bluefish

  • Take one bluefish, preferably one caught early in the morning and then thrown into the stern of the motorboat back by the scupper plugs where it can curl, get stiff in the sun and baste all afternoon in a rainbow patina of gasoline and two-stroke outboard oil.
  • Filet with a rusty knife, taking care to leave scales and the rib bones in the flesh.
  • Leave the dark meat in the fish. For that is where the PCBs are most concentrated.
  • Take a cookie sheet. Preferably the kind that warps into a pretzel shape with a loud “thwang” when heated. Cover with aluminum foil. I don’t know if the shiny or dull side up matters or not.
  • Do not grease the foil. The fish must stick to the foil so your guests will have the electric thrill of finding out what happens when foil meets one of their fillings.
  • With the meat side up cover the bluefish with a one-inch thick layer of Miracle Whip, the evil stepsister of Hellmans Mayo.
  • Bake or broil (it just doesn’t matter) until the Miracle Whip is kind of browned like a meringue.
  • Serve, and then remember you forgot to make any kind of side dish. Dig out some freezer-burned Tater Tots and bake in the oven until lukewarm while the fish gets cold.
  • Eat. Feel bad. Then start drinking. Get angry at nothing in particular and call your nearest relation “a leech who contributes nothing” or “an oxygen thief” and then start a mallet fight with the kids’ croquet set on the lawn in front of the horrified neighbors. Ask them what they are looking at.

For the Union Dead

Relinquunt Ommia Servare Rem Publicam.

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the crowded, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sign still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
a girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half of the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is a lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die-
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic

The stone statutes of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year-
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns…

Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statutes for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
when I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

The ancient owls’ nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,

and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft!- a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.

Too pretty, dreamlike mimicry!
O falling fire and piercing cry
and panic, and a weak mailed fist
clenched ignorant against the sky!

Robert Lowell

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